In Geraardsbergen, a rural Belgian town of around 30,000 Flemish-speakers, the locals are holding onto a tradition that involves drinking live fish. But according to the International Herald Tribune, animal rights activist want to end this historic ritual:
For centuries, thousands of revelers in this part of Belgium have celebrated the Krakelingen festival–named after the bread that will be thrown to the townspeople. The pageant, commemorating the onset of spring, combines pagan and Christian symbols and culminates in the consumption of tiny live fish immersed in red wine at a ceremony presided over by three men dressed as druids.
In case anyone else was wondering, the American Heritage Dictionary defines a druid as a “member of an order of priests in ancient Gaul and Britain who appear in Welsh and Irish legend as prophets and sorcerers”—which is a fun fact, but it doesn’t completely explain why Santa Claus is in the background of the photo that accompanies this article.
Anyhoo, the fish in question are grayish, inch-long grondeling, which are often used as fishing bait. They die soon after they’re dumped into a chalice of red wine, but are sometimes still wriggling a bit in the mouth of the would-be druid. According to Michel Vandenbosch, the president of Global Action in the Interest of Animals, “For the fish, being put in alcohol is like a human being thrown into a container filled with toxic waste.” But let’s remember that being used as bait involves being impaled on a hook, tossed into cold water, and chomped on by a larger fish. With that in mind, being drowned in wine and ritualistically consumed by Santa doesn’t seem like such a bad way to go.