Nights in Brabant are long, according to the famous local song, but the longest day in Brabant is invariably the last Sunday of August in Heeze, close to Eindhoven. What began as a simple parade with farmers’ carts in 1958 will again become an alluring event full of cultural history. On 26 August, the 61st Brabantsedag will take place in 2018.
The main attraction is a massive, mobile theater spectacle, which is the product of the hard work of sixteen amateur groups, creating social cohesion as it passes through the community of the Pearl of Brabant.
The birthplace of the event is Herberg De Zwaan (The Swan Inn), directly adjacent to the drive of Heeze Castle. In 1957, the plan was hatched to enact a yearly culture-historical parade. From the first procession of artisans in 1958, the parade has grown into a mobile Brabant history lesson wrapped in a theatre production. It includes quality acting, make-up, dance, singing, and costumes. The spectacle attracts thirty thousand (extra)-regional visitors. Not bad for a municipality counting approximately ten thousand inhabitants.
The amateur acting groups manage to portray an entire story during the parade, particularly during each stop, lasting a mere handful of minutes. It’s not for nothing that Brabantsedag has been added to the National Inventory of Non-Material Cultural Heritage, as set out in the international UNESCO treaty. This supports and treasures living habits, traditions, skills and rituals and aids in the passing down of this heritage from generation to generation.
Due to the sixtieth anniversary of the event last year, the organisation was awarded the Silver Tulip by the Eindhoven Press Club. Chairwoman Boukje van Ettro is terribly appreciative, noting and expressing the sentiment in the name of the thousands of volunteers. “No one gets paid, not even the judges or the board. That is the power of this event. A solid quarter of the community in Heeze is actively involved. The procession alone counts for two thousand actors, also hailing from outside the village. Behind the scenes are easily another two thousand people who act as sponsors, make-up artists, set-up crew, caterers… name what you like. ‘Do you know Brabantsedag and are you joining?’ isn’t even a question. Authentic Heezeners take it in with their mother’s milk. Even the immigrants join in.”
That community feeling is something to treasure, emphasizes Boukje: “A neighbour day can’t compare. Brabantsedag is the way to meet all of Heeze. At every set-up site people from outside Heeze sign up, and are adopted into the community. It’s the ultimate integration program. That’s also one of the reasons why the provincial administration has embraced Brabantsedag; the King’s Commissioner and provincial deputies are present every year. Last year, asylum seekers participated in the set-up of the floats. Last week a volunteer signed up who has only been living here for a week, who hasn’t seen the Brabantsedag before, but already sees that it is unique. He doesn’t know what he’s in for, he’ll be totally flabbergasted.”
If you see the parade once, you’ll be instantly sold on it, beams Boukje: “Take Ben, from Rotterdam, who happened to be here years ago, and was enchanted by the event, and since then, comes every year for the entire week and camps out. He goes to every production, knows all of the float builders, and is part of our furniture. In 2016 his grandson was allowed to participate because a group lacked a pusher. He was so proud!”
Even contrary teens are willing to join mum and dad, and for younger children the event is a mobile Efteling. Clever move by the organisation: kids up to 12-years-old get free entry; parents and grandparents will join anyway. Even newer generations are being infected by the bug: “Since a few years, we have a primary school project, with a morning of information and workshops. Last year, we had the first children parade within the same theme on our Saturday opening. The builders, designers, and actors were already in the village, and the community garden was already full of float builders, so the kids had a grand entrée.”
Parade of Pleasure remains.
Based upon a shared theme – last year: Parade of Pleasure, this year 2018: From Ravenstein to Roosendaal – the float builders choose a historical Brabant issue from before 1957 and have lots of freedom to translate it into a mobile theatre spectacle. Sounds simple, but it isn’t. Even before June rolls around, the meters-high construction tents spring up all over Heeze, and lines are being memorized and brainstormed at kitchen tables and in bars; the quality is top-notch. Boukje calls it “Culture with a capital C and Art with a capital A. And it’s entirely done by volunteers. Something in the genes of Heeze breeds creativity. Everyone tires to out-do themselves; not even the yearly planning gets copy-pasted after all these years.”
In September and October, the workers get a break, but towards the end of the year, the scaffolding goes up for the next Brabantsedag once again, together with the reveal of the new theme: “With this jubilee we made a point of also looking forward. We have marked out a spot on the horizon, and put picket posts around it. The uniqueness of Brabantsedag remains the procession, the enormous rolling theatre spectacle that is unrivalled in the province or in the whole of the Netherlands.”
This stays undisputed. The plan this year is to make it an immersive experience, with even more events planned for all age groups, during the weekend, reveals Boukje: “You spend an entire day at a festival, and that’s the idea to make Brabantsedag even stronger and to continue attracting tens of thousands of visitors.” Because that is something the tiny village is colossal at.
See this page for more information.
With thanks to the book ’50 jaar Brabantsedag’ by A.C. Maas.
The original Dutch article by Marie-José Dekkers was published in FRITS magazine in August 2017