Getting into summer with the Brussels ‘Buumdragers’

31 May 2021

How do you celebrate the return of summer sunshine? For centuries, maypoles have been the centrepiece of choice for rituals to mark summer finally taking over from winter. Every year, a maypole is also erected in Brussels, although things are done a little differently there.

Whether it’s in Belgium, Spain, Ireland or Scandinavia, you will find maypoles in the most diverse European countries. The custom is said to be pagan in origin and centred around a decorated pole or tree, accompanied by numerous festivities. They are usually erected or planted on 30 April or 1 May, but that isn’t the case in Brussels. Why not join the merry Brussels parade of elated children, Gardevils (city guards) on horseback, stately giants and burly Buumdragers (tree-carriers)?

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Every year on 9 August, the eve of Saint Lawrence’s Day, the Meyboom is ‘planted’ on the corner of Broekstraat and Zandstraat. One credible belief on the origins of this tells us that the maypole planting stems from a dispute between the Brabant cities of Brussels and Leuven. In 1213, Brussels was victorious over Leuven in a brawl at a wedding feast. And to celebrate, they put up a maypole every year... under one condition: the Brussels ‘Buumdragers’ must plant the tree before 5pm, otherwise the privilege shifts to the people of Leuven.

The people of Leuven tried to steal the tree many times until they finally succeeded in 1979, and a maypole planting ceremony has also taken place in Leuven ever since. Over forty years later, the two cities still have a friendly rivalry about who has the real maypole.

This video clip from the AMVB (Archive and Museum for the Flemish Living in Brussels) sheds light on an old but very much alive-and-kicking Brussels ritual, which was also their submission for the Beeldcapsule (Image Capsule) 2017. This Brussels archive and museum is the main centre of expertise and hub for Flemish life in Brussels.