How do you make that? Heritage Day looks at lost skills


The popular day dedicated to Flanders’ cultural and historical traditions looks at the utterly different skill sets of our families of yesteryear

From fish to jenever

If our ancestors could see us now, they would be amazed at the ease with which we do pretty much everything. We – by and large – do not make our own clothes, do not start a fire in our kitchen stoves and do not hook a horse up to a wagon to head into town.

In fact, the odds of us surviving if plopped into the 19th-century are practically zero. Average skill sets have changed dramatically. Most of us cannot fix a doorknob let alone a water pump.

And so it is with a nod to the practical skills that got our families of yesteryear through the day that Heritage Day has chosen artisans and craftsmanship as its theme this year. Though events and activities don’t all hark back quite as far as all that; you’ll also discover differences between us and the 1920s, say, or the 1950s, when your granny might have not made her own shoes but she certainly made her own jam.

A record number of events have been registered this year for Heritage Day, Flanders’ annual celebration of local culture, history and traditions. The day is hugely popular, with more than 200,000 visitors across the region.

Free, but register

From volunteer groups to Flanders’ and Brussels’ biggest museums, hundreds of organisations are offering tours, talks and workshops next Sunday, 28 April. While organisations are not required to stick to the theme in their own activities, there are plenty that do. The rest are simply events in support of something related to regional heritage – an extremely broad palette. And everything during Heritage Day is free.

A huge number of municipalities have something going on for Heritage Day, and the larger cities have dozens of options. But some stand-out events this year might be worth traveling to.

At Turnhout’s Museum of the Playing Card, for instance, an expert will show you how lithography works – how they printed playing cards before they had ink or printing presses. It’s based on the art and science of mixing oil and water, and you get to try it yourself in the museum’s atelier.

In Brussels, author Lucas Catherine has put together a tour related to her new book De Buik van Brussel (The Belly of Brussels). It’s a people’s history of Sint-Katelijne’s famous Vismet quarter, from fishmonger shenanigans to café theatres’ backstage dramas.

Or how would you like a skill that you can really take into the future? Learn how to make your own jenever at the museum dedicated to the tipple in Hasselt.

While Heritage Day events are free, many have restricted attendance and require a registration. Also, most events are in Dutch. Avoid disappointment by planning in advance.

Photo top, courtesy Jenever Museum; above courtesy Faro