The Gentse Feesten (Ghent Festival) (Flemish pronunciation: [ˈʝɛnt.sə ˈfeːs.tə(n)]) is a music and theatre festival in the city of Ghent, Belgium. Besides stage events there are random small street acts such as mimickers, buskers, etc. The festival starts on the Saturday before July 21 (Belgium's national holiday) and lasts ten days. The last day (always a Monday) is known as de dag van de lege portemonnees (the day of the empty wallets) alluding to the fact that many people have spent their last penny at the festival, and is by the people of Ghent seen as "their" day while the stream of visitors from other places ceases.
The first Gentse Feesten were held in 1843. The intensity of the festivities changed throughout the years, sometimes very strong and radiant (e.g. the 100-year anniversary was said to be very festive and lively), but sometimes also very low-key.
The modern day Gentse Feesten were started in the summer of 1969 by Ghent singer Walter De Buck and ex-wife Paula Monsart, along with the people from the Trefpunt cafe. In the beginning the festival consisted of one stage near the Saint Jacob Church. Since the late eighties the festival has grown enormously and now covers the whole inner city of Ghent.
Although the festival has become a mass event, it has retained some of the rebellious and anarchistic atmosphere of the early days. Public drunkenness is not entirely unseen.
About 2 million visitors attend the festival every year, making it one of the biggest cultural and popular festivals in Europe. The number of unique visitors on top nights surpasses 250,000. In a 2005 ranking by www.localfestivities.com, the Gentse Feesten was called the third biggest city festival in Europe, only preceded by the Fallas in Valencia and the Oktoberfest in Munich.
Festivals within the Gentse Feesten
Traditionally the shows at the festival have been free, but in the later years a number of side festivals have chosen the period of the Gentse Feesten to organize separate events.
- Gent Jazz Festival (formerly Blue Note Festival) (since 2002): jazz festival, the first years in the Castle of Counts and then in the Bijloke abbey.
- Comedy Festival Gent (since 2007): comedy festival at JOC Rabot, which also hosts a few English-speaking shows.
- International Puppetbuskerfestival: festival for puppet players spread over the whole city.
- International Street Theater Festival (MiramirO): street theater
- Polé Polé Festival (since 2003): World Music at the Korenlei and Graslei.
- Ten Days Off (since 1995): electronic dance music in the Vooruit. Around 20.000 visitors in 2005.
- Boomtown (since 2002): Alternative music.
- Ground Zero Festival  (2009): Free no-nonsense music festival in Damberd Jazz-café on the Korenmarkt
- Belgian Summer Sing (since 2008): international choral festival spread over the whole city.