It is a legend as old as the ages, a tale that has inspired countless expressions through storytelling, books, stained glass, paintings, statues, and drama: Saint George and the Dragon. The Lumeçon is a reenactment of the epic battle that has taken place annually for seven centuries in the city of Mons; it’s the grand finale of the week-long Ducasse festival (or Doudou) which honors Mons’ patron saint, Waltrude. The event is known, like so many European festivals, to be very crowded, somewhat inebriated, rowdy, and a ton of fun–but not something one would take little kids to. So the Montois came up with a family-friendly solution, the Petit Lumeçon. Same Grand-Place, same battle, but with a system to let the kids get up close and personal with the battle safely—and even with child actors filling the roles.
Mons was looking her finest on this June day as my husband dropped us off at the fringe of the city’s pedestrian zone. My 5-year-old and I emerged onto the Grand-Place into bright sun, red and white city flags fluttering in the blue sky above, and thousands of milling parents, beers in hands, who had already dropped their children off to their designated zones. We splurged on a 6 euro whistle on a red-and-white string to join in the noisemaking. I was trying to meet a friend on the other side of the place, and we accidentally got trapped in the thickest part of the crowd–which also happened to be as close to the action as we’d get. As the start time was nearing, we stayed.
At 12:30 the band entered its pavilion and struck up a martial tune. Men dressed in white carried out the dragon, which looked to be paper mache with a horsehair tail. Kids wielding inflated animal bladders played devils and leaf men fought on the dragon’s side. Those playing Chinchins, doglike creatures, fought on Saint George’s side. A tween version of Saint George entered, his trusty horse led by an adult (his father plays Saint George in the Lumeçon currently, as did his father). Round and round they circled as George failed to kill the dragon with his apparently quite fragile spear. The crowd of kids surrounding the arena, who had lined up hours earlier to get in, tried to tear out dragon tail hairs for good luck as it spun by. The band played on and the crowd clapped along for 30 minutes. Of course, I had to hold up my daughter to see as she was otherwise buried in the crowd of adults. (Occasionally a child would get carried out from the center, having succumbed, I assume, to the heat.) After half an hour, George finally did the deed with his pistol, the crowd cheered, and the actors exited into the City Hall.
The Grand-Place remained full as parents were reunited with their kids in an orderly fashion. But once things thinned out, we were able to enter the sandy arena to pick up dragon hairs for ourselves and watch a couple of actors who hadn’t quite had enough fighting, as well as admire our friends’ festive outfits. When the after-party parade started, we were in a prime viewing zone to see local celebrities as well as the adult and kid-versions of the dragon march by.
This legend was already one of my favorites, as an illustration of the struggle between good and evil on this earth; I found the Petit Lumeçon to be a fascinating glimpse into a long-held local tradition. My daughter, who isn’t really into metaphors yet, was mostly happy to play in the sand afterward with her friend and hunt dragon hairs. I wasn’t sold on the idea of letting her join the inner crowd before we attended, but now I can see how it is feasible. Depending on how her French is coming, next year we just may let her venture into the fray. Because childhood, after all, is when dragon-slaying begins.
When: The Petit Lumeçon takes place one week after Trinity Sunday, in late May or early June. In 2016 it is on May 29.
Tickets: Entry is free.