Although most of us celebrate cats every day in our own homes, one European city turns the practice into a parade and festival, held every third year on the second Sunday of May. The Kattenstoet (Festival of the Cats) parade in Ypres, Belgium is steeped in tradition dating back to the Middle Ages, although its origins are far from being feline-friendly.
The festival is a commemoration of an inhumane practice where the town jester would throw live cats off the belfry tower of Cloth Hall. No one knows the exact reason this cruel tradition started, but it's believed to have its roots in fears over sorcery and witchcraft. Another theory is that Cloth Hall was used to house wool in the winter, and that kitties were brought in to control the rodent population. Once spring came and the wool was sold, the cats were no longer needed, and thus disposed of.
Fortunately, the horrifying cat tossing practice ended in 1817, when it was banned for good. Kattenstoet continued, but it wasn't until 1955 that the first large festival was staged. Nowadays, it celebrates the history and tradition of the cat, with floats, music, stilt walkers, and costumed spectators (many of them dressed as cats) enjoying the festivities. In a nod back to its dubious beginnings, the parade concludes with a jester ascending Cloth Hall, symbolically tossing plush cats into the eagerly awaiting crowd.
Kattenstoet celebrated its last festival (its 42nd edition) on May 10, 2009, which means the next one should be coming up in 2012. I wasn't able to find any confirmation of this, but if you have any information, or have been to the festival yourself and can tell me more about it, I'd love to hear from you!
See more images here.