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Meyboom celebrations to liven-up Brussels city centre on Tuesday
One of Brussels’ oldest folklore traditions will transform the city centre into a street party when the Meyboom will be erected on the corner of the Rue des Sables and the Rue du Marais on Tuesday afternoon.
The public can join in the Unesco-recognised festivities by following the procession from 13.30. It’s composed of the Companions of Saint-Laurent, the Bûûmdroegers – those who carry the tree – as well as giant folklore figures, marching bands and flag throwers. Tradition dictates that the tree has to be planted by 17.00.
Ever since 9 August 1308, to celebrate a victory by Brussels over Leuven, a beech tree from the Sonian forest has been planted on what is now the corner of the Rue des Sables and the Rue du Marais.
If it’s not in the ground before 17.00, the right to plant the tree defaults to Leuven. There have been a few close calls over the years. In1939, a group of Leuvenites stole the tree and the Bûûmdroegers had to rush and cut down another one to be able to plant it in time. In the periods of occupation in the first and second world wars, the ceremony was carried out en stoemelings (in a hidden manner), but never once in 714 years has the tree not been planted on time. During the pandemic, the festivities were halted but a small tree was planted to keep the tradition going.
Numerous tales of the tradition’s origin
As befits any living folklore, there are varying tales of its origin. The oldest oral tradition is that in 1213, Brussels crossbowmen under the protection of Saint Laurence beat invading forces from Ghent (or Leuven in another account), and the Meyboom was planted to commemorate the victory.
An alternative story is that a wedding between a bride from Brussels and a groom from Leuven was held at one of the many taverns north of the Brussels city walls. The two families started to argue but the conflict was settled with the plan for a tree to be planted every year by the people of Brussels.
Another version of this story involves beer taxes. Taverns were located outside the city walls so they could escape the hefty beer tax imposed by the capital. In 1213, some Leuvenites were apparently so incensed by the taxes, they arrived in force and attacked the tavern where a wedding banquet was taking place. The crossbowmen of the Guild of Saint Laurence happened to be there and successfully repulsed the invaders. The Duke of Brabant, in recognition of their effort, raised the guild to the status of corporation, which gave them the right to plant a Meyboom. The guild decided to plant a tree every year on 9 August, the eve of the feast day of Saint Laurence. But for some unknown reason they did not exercise this right until 1308.
Regardless of the true origin, this is the city’s oldest folkloric tradition and a brilliant excuse for an all-day street party. The event involves a 13-metre beech tree weighing at least 600 kilos, which is transported from the Sonian forest to Schaerbeek before the city-centre parade with a performance on the Grand Place, a salute to the Manneken Pis, crowds of spectators and lots of beer.
Once the tree has been planted, the celebrations continue in the cafés around Rue du Marais with live music and a display of the folklore giants.