Setting up the Mayboom in Brussels in 2021, Source: Les Compagnons de Saint-Laurent (Meyboom)

There is a 700-year-old feud between Brussels and Leuven and it’s about a tree

There is a 700-year-old feud between Brussels and Leuven and it’s about a tree

The ancient dispute is recognised by UNESCO as part of the region’s heritage

Today both the citizens of Brussels and Leuven will mark the occasion of the Meyboom, a medieval tradition born out of the rivalry between the two cities. The tradition includes a parade and planting the Mayboom tree, traditionally a beech, on the corner of Rue des Sables and the Rue du Marais in Brussels and in Grote Markt Square in Leuven.

A 700-year-old friendly feud recognised by UNESCO

The Mayboom tradition started in 1308 and this year marks its 714th year. Since its conception, the tree has been planted on 9 August, marking the Day of St Lawrence, as the Companions of St Lawrence have been the ones to carry it out.

On that day, with the help of the city’s Plantation Department, the Companions of St Lawrence choose a tree from the Sonian Forest. According to tradition, it must weigh at least 600 kilograms and measure 12-13 metres in height and be leafy.

The tree is then cut down and transported by Bûûmdroegers (tree bearers) through the municipalities of Schaerbeek, Saint-Josse-ten-Noode and the City of Brussels. A marching band accompanies the procession and Poepedroegers (giant puppet bearers).

At 1 p.m., a tribute is paid to the deceased Companions, then the tree needs to be planted before 5 PM, otherwise, the city would lose the rights to the Mayboom and the tradition would pass on to Leuven. It is important to note that the tree is not really planted, but rather, just stuck in the ground and removed the next day.

In Leuven, by contrast, the Mayboom is planted on the Grote Markt and usually stays up until September.

The Mayboom in LeuvenThe Mayboom in Leuven, Source: City of Leuven

Since 2008, the Meyboom has been recognised as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, as part of the binational listing of 'Processional giants and dragons in Belgium and France'.

The feud through history and Leuven’s claim to the tree

According to some sources, the tradition originated in 1213 from a massive bar fight during a wedding in the outskirts of Brussels, with some men from Leuven involved. The Leuven men seemed to have had the upper hand, but then the Companions of St Lawrence showed up and helped their fellow citizens.

As the story goes, the then Duke of Brabant, John II, gave the Companions the right to plant the tree, yet they only started doing that in 1308. The tree has been planted every year since then, even during the war years at the beginning of the 20th century. According to legend, however, if Brussels citizens fail to plant the tree before 5 PM they would lose the rights to Leuven.  

In 1974, a group of Leuven men, disguised as journalists, found out which tree was designated as the Meyboom and chopped it down on the night of 8 August. Supposedly, they wrote on the stump: Men of Brussels here your tree has stood, the men of Leuven left with it'’.

On 9 August 1974, the Meyboom was planted before 17:00 on the Grand Market in Leuven. The inhabitants of Brussels, however, did not bother much with technicality and selected another tree, planted it before 5 pm and continued with their tradition. Now both cities claim the right to plant the real Meyboom, and for Leuven this year will be their 49th in a row.



Growing City


Smart City


Green City


Social City


New European Bauhaus




ECP 2021 Winner TheMayorEU