Les Gayants de Douai

Les Gayants de Douai or the Giants of Douai is a festival organized in the city of Douai located in the north of France. Douai and the surrounding area have the population of more than 200,000 people. The festival is held on Sunday after the 5th of July. It lasts for three days.

location of Douai

Well, let's start with its history. In the the 15th century the town was part of Flanders and the festival was held as celebration of French defeat. In 1479 the Count of Flanders beat the French troops. The festival was then held in June honouring the town's patron Saint Maurand.

Saint Maurand
Saint Maurand, the patron saint of Douai

In 1530 the French were defeated for the second time. The Spanish who then ruled in Flanders ordered that big festival should be organized to commemorate the victory.

Local guild of basket makers created a huge wickerwork figure. The figure was named "Gayant" which in the Picardy dialect means a giant. In 1531 new figure was introduced by the guild of fruit growers. The Gayant got his wife. She was named Madame Gayant or Marie Cagenon.

Second half of the 17th century brought new changes. In 1667 Doui became part of France. The bishop ordered a new festival which will celebrate the French victory.

The festival was held on the 6th of July. He cancelled the old festival, as it celebrated the French defeat, and banned the Gayants. He especially did not the fact that the parade in former festival included a dragon and devils.

The original festival reappeared in 1780. But it was again banned in 1792 by the French Revolution authorities who did not like the religious elements of the event. They also thought that the Gayants represented the aristocracy.

The fight for the festival's survival continued. It was started again 1801. The figures wore ordinary clothes of that time. The exception was the Gayant warrior.

1815 with creation of the Burbon monarchy in France brought last big changes of the festival. The costumes got the appearance that still exists today.

During both World war 1 and 2 Douai was occupied by Germany. Germans destroyed the Gayants on both occasions.

The participants of the festival today are Monsieur and Madame Gayant (Marie Cagenon); their children - Jacquot, Fillon and Binbin; the figures of the "Wheel of Fortune" and a "fool" riding a hobby horse (toy horse).

Mr. and Mrs. Gayant

Mr. (Monsieur) or Father (Papa) Gayant is really big. He is 8.50 metres tall and weighs 370 kg. Mrs. (Madame) Gayant is little bit smaller. She is 6.25 meters tall and weighs 250 kg. Each of these gayants, built of lightweight wickerwork, is carried by 6 men. You can certainly imagine that it is quite difficult to steer such a huge object. It is done by looking through small hole existing in the skirt of each Gayant.

Binbin - a baby Gayant

Children figures are much small and are carried by only one man. Jacquot is 3.40 meters tall and has a weight of 80 kg. Fillon is 3.15 meters tall and has a weight of 70 kg. Binbin is 2.40 meters tall and has a weight of 45 kg. Binbin is a baby Gayant. Only citizens of Douai have the right to kiss him.

A drummer and officials wearing white and red clothes are walking in front of the Gayants. Everybody gathers in front of the Town hall on Sunday at 9.00 am. The Lord Mayor gives a speech. Pigeons are released, sweets are thrown to the audience. Brass bands are performing.

Parades through the city last for three days. They also include folklore groups from other parts of France and abroad. Everyone is having fun.