This year, Dutch Carnival has taken place from Friday February 24th until Tuesday February 28th (also known as ‘Fat Tuesday’). Carnival is a moment of the year when both young and old people get into the streets to make some noise while wearing extravagant costumes.
The origins of Carnival
Marking the start of the Christian fasting season of Lent, Carnival is a tradition celebrated around the world beginning on the sixth Sunday before Easter and ending on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.
From an anthropological point of view, Carnaval is a reversal ritual, in which social roles are reversed and norms about desired behavior are suspended. Winter was thought of as the reign of the winter spirits that were to be driven out for the summer to return. Carnaval can thus be regarded as a rite of passage from darkness to light, from winter to summer: a fertility celebration, the first spring festival of the new year.
The Dutch carnival
Nowadays, the religious meaning of carnival in the Netherlands has disappeared but the date and practice of overturning daily behaviour remain. The Dutch – and thousands of visitors who flock to the south – temporarily forget their strong belief in ‘being normal’ and wear wacky costumes while singing and prancing around the city with drinks in hand. No matter your age, carnival in the Netherlands is a playground for children, young revellersand the elderly alike.
Dutch carnival preparations begin in advance, traditionally on day 11 of month 11 at 11.11am – 11 being the fool’s number in the Netherlands.
However, carnival in the Netherlands is mostly celebrated in the Southern areas of the country, namely the southern provinces of Noord-Brabant and Limburg (and in some Catholic villages in other parts). The Northern areas, being predominately Protestant, tend not to celebrate.
The Dutch Carnival is characterized by icons which include a Carnival Prince (Prins Carnaval), who is the master of ceremonies, a Raad van Elf, a group of 11 locals (typically men) who monitor the festivities, and a grand optocht (parade) that typically makes fun of politicans, celebrities and the year’s past events. Further mocking can be heard by the ‘barrel speaker’ (onpraoter, sauwelaar, tonpraoter, buuttereedner or ouwoer depending on the city) in local dialect.
What you must know, however, is that every town celebrates Carnaval differently, just like every Dutch town has its own unique personality and a different ‘Carnival’ name.
The major party cities
The city of Maastricht, also called Mestreech during carnival, is known to be the largest celebration of all the southern cities. Maastricht carnival is mostly celebrated outdoors, like in the rest of Limburg, and festivities centre around Vrijthof Square. There are daily events held during the Maastricht carnival period, including a Cramignon dance on the Markt at 8.33pm every evening, where everyone is invited to accompany the brass band and revel in the true spirit of Carnaval Maastricht.
Eindhoven is called ‘Lampegat’, which loosely translates as ‘light bulb village‘, and refers to the history of the city as the first ever producer of light bulbs. The city focuses its attention on music, dancing, and fun. It can get pretty rowdy but if you know what’s going on where, Carnaval is fun for every member of the family.
The entire city is decorated with bright colours. The Eindhoven colours are orange and blue. Streamers and confetti cover the streets and music plays from everywhere. Although a costume is not required, it is greatly encouraged.
The city of Tilburg, called Kruikenstad during this time of the year, hosts the Opstoet, the annual parade. Tilburg carnaval’s optocht follows this route. Before the grand parade, there are numberous events held in the name of Tilburg carnaval, where revellers can attend a concert on Wednesday and Thursday and a massive pub crawl on Friday, among other celebrations.
Oeteldonk city, the carnival name, has its HRH Prince Amadeiro Ricosto di Carnavallo, Lord and Master of Oeteldonk, and his helpers arrive at Oeteldonk Centraal (or Den Bosch station) at 11:11am on the Sunday the celebrations. After several ceremonies, these characters march in a procession towards the Market Square where they symbolically honour a farmer named Knillis, the alleged founder of Oeteldonk, with a doll decked in traditional farmer costume. Following that other parties and events occur all over the historic fortified city; many events are also held in the days before Den Bosch carnaval.
Although not in Noord-Brabant and Limburg, the people of Nijmegen – or Knotsenburg, as it’s temporarily known – celebrate Dutch carnival with as much passion as their southern peers. Nijmegen carnaval officially kicks off at 11.11 am, three days before Fat Tuesday, with a procession that leads to the Market Place, when the people hand over the city’s keys to the Carnival Prince and tap the first beer keg to celebrate at 1pm.