FACING BRUSSELS – social passport

Festivities define us. As inhabitants of a country caught up in the fever of Olympic gold or as the imaginary kin of a winning national football team. As (great) grandchildren of these or any other prophets or as followers of a claimed superior religion or conviction.

They display us as Muslims who celebrate the circumcision of their sons with festivities that will be talked about by those present forever. Or they confirm our identity as Christians who jump from fish on Fridays to Christmas turkeys, from martyrdoms to resurrections, Easter lambs and palm branches. Brussels plays host to them all. Or at least almost. It is rare for such traditions and national commemorations not to be celebrated in the city, be they joyful or solemn and in most cases based on somewhat twisted historical facts and regardless of where or when they took place.

You would hope that festivities would bring us together, that they would transcend our race, nationality, ideology or faith. You would hope.

What and how we celebrate, however, define us like some kind of social passport. They classify us, lead us back to a past when the idea of making up one’s own mind was yet to be invented. To our communities of origin, regardless of how enormous or how limited our present-day loyalty may be.

Moreover, what inspires joy and affirmation in one man will not uncommonly inspire discontent in others. Listen to the petty remarks around the office about colleagues who observe Ramadan. The bad temper of temporarily abstinent smokers, the eternal fatigue, the burgeoning instances of sick leave. Ask the homosexuals who say ‘I do’ to their chosen love at the Town Hall only to be booed by narrow-minded youth just a few streets further. Consider the despair and dispossession in the Messianic churches and read the destructive sociological studies about ‘such intolerable forms of manipulation and deception’. And read the street humour: every time king football appears on the screen and monopolises the minds of millions, the hooting glory of one side ends in the sleepless frustration of the other.

Brussels celebrates everything, come rain, hail, fog, snow or shine. We are spared no mystery. Families celebrate, clubs celebrate, neighbourhoods celebrate, communities celebrate. They mainly do it in compartments, though: alongside and gratingly against but never with one another. And often with disdain for one another. Brussels celebrates but so rarely, as in the Zinneke Parade, together. My Zinneke, your Zinneke, our Zinneke. A parade from heart to heart, through and of the city. A celebration for the Brussels of our dreams.