Ghent is invaded by bears! (Teddy)bears peek out of every second window, beige and brown, big and small, shabby and span-new. They sit in the chairs of the empty barber shops, climb on the heads of porcelain saints, stick their tongues out, wave their paws at passers-by. Never have I seen so many teddy bears as I did during my walk in Ghent. So what’s up?
It’s quarantine, you know, and schools are closed. Children stay at home with their parents, and parents aren’t the best playmates, especially if they have to work from home and constantly balance on the verge of insanity trying to combine work with child care. Playgrounds are closed, as are the zoos and all the other places where little Belgians usually get rid of their excess energy. The only available form of outside entertainment is walking with parents somewhere close to home. Making such walks amusing day after day is tough job! So Belgian parents loved the game invented in Australia: making every walk a quest under the motto ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’!
If you’re English-speaking, this probably rings the bell at once: since 1989, the similarly named book by Michael Rosen has been a favourite read for several generations of English-speaking children. The original illustrations are by Helen Oxenbury. A funny detail: the artist used her kids and the dog as models for the illustrations, but somehow the readers still take the eldest boy in the pictures for the father of the other little hunters. Even the official website of the Russian editing house Labirint Press mentions ‘a father going for a bear hunt with his four children’ describing the book!
But let’s get back to the unexpected appearance of bears in our quarantine story. When the coronavirus quarantine began, Australians thought searching for teddy bears in the neighborhood windows can make walks more fun for young children. The rest was super easy, for every self-respecting house has at least one (teddy) bear hiding in it! From Australia, the game spread to the UK, and from there to the rest of Europe. And now little Belgians go around hunting bears, too, and their parents can finally have a moment of mental rest, as entertaining their offspring has suddenly become a job of the whole community. And the best part is that no bears are harmed during that hunt, not even the ones shamelessly sticking their tongues out at the passers-by!