By Christophe Morel, USAG Benelux Public AffairsFebruary 1, 2018
CHIÈVRES, Belgium -- In Chièvres, Crossage is a must-see event. This year, it will take place Feb. 14 starting at noon in city's streets. For newcomers, this local tradition may seem surprising. Follow our guide to learn everything about this game considered a sport by the local residents:
THE MAIN WORDS
If it's your first time, the most important rule is to learn those two words: "attention chôlette." During the event, participants play on the street with a wooden mallet called a "rabot" and a wooden ball called a "chôlette". Teams compete against each other as they hit the chôlette with their rabot to reach beer kegs in as few hits as possible. Players shout "chôlette" before they strike the ball to warn other players that the ball is in play.
The game can be compared to croquet or golf. The entire course covers 30 beer kegs. "Teams compete against one another and have to announce a number of hits to touch the keg," said Ovide Canseliet, founder of the Museum of Rural Life in Huissignies.
A LONG HISTORY
In Chièvres, participants play "crossage à l'tonne" (tonne meaning keg) in the streets. It's one of the different forms of crossage. The sport has evolved over the years, and there are few explanations about its appearance. The history of crossage dates back to the Middle Ages. Initially, this game was for nobles. "At the beginning of the 15th century, they were playing beneath the walls of the city. But in the 18th century, it was forbidden to play in the streets because of damages so people played in the fields. It was much more athletic. The players had to run. Then, the game came back to the streets for Ash Wednesday," explained Canseliet.
NO CROSSAGE WITHOUT BEER
Beer is an important part of the crossage for few reasons. First, players try to hit kegs in front of local bars. "There are not many bars left today so people place temporary bars instead," said Canseliet.
Secondly, many players participate in crossage first and foremost to share good times and drinks with friends, which may seem contradictory, because Feb. 14 is the beginning of Lent. "Non-Christians wanted to play, party and drink during Ash Wednesday to challenge the Church. This was not well-perceived of course," Canseliet said.
According to him, drinking beer during the first day of Lent was a provocation. "It was a way of reacting to the obligation of fast and abstinence," he added.
At the end of the game, the losing team must buy beers for the winning team.
The rabots are handmade with a very specific technique. Players can customize their rabot as well as the wooden ball. "Everybody has the option to decorate their rabot and chôlette, and there are no rules," Canseliet said. "Most of the time, groups are created by companies, associations, groups of friends," he added. It is recommended that people soak their rabot and chôlette in water overnight and let it dry before decorating. This is to prevent the wood from cracking while playing the game.
For the event, the city of Chièvres will be closed to all traffic. No parking will be allowed as this game is played on the streets. "Crossage took a big extension in the 1960's and 1970's, so the city had to be closed," Canseliet said. For security reasons, participants must pay for insurance during registration. If you want to attend the event, remember that several players can hit a ball at the same time in different directions. Watch your surroundings to avoid being hit!