Discover world rituals as Heritage Day plays generation game


Flanders’ annual Erfgoeddag offers visitors the chance to immerse themselves in traditions modern and ancient from the region and around the world

The power of tradition

With hundreds of free activities in one day, the region’s major heritage event invites people to discover rituals that have been passed down through the generations and remain valuable and relevant to our lives today.

Now celebrating its 16th anniversary, Erfgoeddag, or Heritage Day, has become a tradition in Flanders and Brussels. It focuses on our tangible heritage – objects, monuments, buildings – as well as intangible heritage, such as stories, songs and traditional skills.

This year’s edition has Rituals as its central theme. All over the world people cherish rituals inherited from their parents and ancestors; Erfgoeddag offers the chance to find out more about such traditions in Flanders and abroad, and to discover why they are so powerful.

Most of the day’s activities are open to adults and children alike. They are hosted by a range of organisations, including socio-cultural groups, local history clubs, museums, theatres and schools.

In Bruges, for example, at the Rijksarchief, you can visit Wonen op wielen (Living on Wheels), a unique encounter with caravan dwellers, as they invite you into their van and introduce some of their daily rituals. There’s also a photo exhibition on specific birth rituals in their community.

“This is the third time we’ve participated in Heritage Day,” says Rita Janssens of the non-profit organisation Mensen van de weg, the group behind this activity. “Most people don’t know much about the way caravan dwellers live, yet they may have welcomed some of them into their own house without realising it, like one or more of the travelling knife grinders, who are an important subgroup. Our organisation wants to promote the interests of this travelling community and its rich heritage.”

Cakes and death

One museum that has always shown a particular interest in Flanders’ cultural heritage is Huis van Alijn in Ghent. On Erfgoeddag, it offers a journey through rituals. Spokesperson Griet Desutter: “One wing of our museum is entirely dedicated to the big moments in life and the rituals that go along with them: birth, first communion, marriage, death…

“On Heritage Day, we offer our visitors a unique experience by creating a surprising dialogue between rituals from days gone by and present-day answers to them. For example, traditional funeral ceremonies are juxtaposed with modern poets who will be reading poems written especially for the burial of people who died alone.”

One wing of our museum is entirely dedicated to the big moments in life and the rituals that go along with them

- Griet Desutter

In another room, an illustrator will be making drawings based on pictures and other objects from the museum’s collection, and there will be workshops, music and other activities.

The Koninklijk Atheneum secondary school in Anderlecht in Brussels has worked with heritage organisation Leca on a film project about rituals made by youngsters in the capital. They set out on a quest to discover the rituals that bind and strengthen them in their particularly diverse community, and a selection of the films will be shown at an interactive exhibition.

And at the Edouard Remy assisted living centre in Leuven, an exhibition and theatre production will shed light on rituals related to cake. Why do we put candles on birthday cakes? Why do wedding cakes have three layers? How do they bake cake in other parts of the world?

Erfgoeddag offers 700 activities in more than 250 municipalities across the region, free of charge. An app helps visitors create a programme for the day. The project is an initiative of Faro, the government agency for the support of Flemish cultural heritage.

Heritage Day, 24 April, across Flanders and Brussels

Photo: Artur Eranosian/Faro