It is Carnaval season again in the Netherlands. You can find many festivities in various Dutch cities. People wear costumes, there are massive parades, and for some, they celebrate through drinking and eating. But what exactly is Carnaval and why it is being celebrated every year in the Netherlands? Let’s have a look at the brief history and how it is being celebrated.
What is Carnaval in the Netherlands?
Accounts have shown that Carnaval was first celebrated in Den Bosch, a city in the South of the Netherlands during the Middle Ages. These have mentioned of games, costumes, cock fights, and gambling. The grand celebrations of Carnaval existed for quite a while and then gone during the 16th century. It was only during the 19th century that the celebration began to emerged again as a way of people to holding on their roots and traditions, especially during the occupation of the French in the Netherlands.
Carnaval is a religious celebration, in fact of Catholic origin. This celebration is largely popular in the South of the Netherlands, where majority of the Dutch are Catholics (while the Dutch from the North of the Netherlands are mostly Protestants). Refer to my blog Dutch cities close to Belgian border for this distinction between the North and South Netherlands. The Carnaval marks the beginning of Lent Season, or the 40 days fasting until Easter season. Before the Lent comes, which is mark by Ash Wednesday, people feast – eat and drink. For non-Catholics, the Carnaval is a symbolism of new life. It marks the rite of passage from darkness to light, from winter to summer, and thus the beginning of spring of the year. The celebration of Carnaval takes three days, but during the Middle Ages, it takes two months (in between Christmas and Lent season).
Customs and Traditions
The Carnaval in the Netherlands is all about fun and reversing roles in society, whether it is gender, rituals, etc. Some cities even change their names during Carnaval period, For example, cities such as Venlo becomes Jocus Riék, Amsterdam becomes Grootgragtegat (meaning big place with canals), Heerlen becomes Heële, and Roermond becomes Remunj. Another unique thing about the Carnaval is the presence of Prince Carnaval, who controls the city and his “fools” for three days after receiving the keys to his city from the mayor of the town/city. The rule is to cheer up with the Prince Carnaval for three days.
Of course, the Carnaval will not be complete without the parades, costumes, and parties. You can dress up as crazy as you want and even cities have their own colors during the Carnaval. Want some inspiration for your dress up? Think of pirates, clowns, smurf, or frog! 🙂
Dutch celebration of Carnaval
The celebration of Carnaval in the Netherlands varies, depending on location. The first is the Rhenish Carnaval, which is celebrated in Limburg region such as Maastricht. Rhenish Carnaval is synonymous to Carnaval celebration in Cologne Germany. The second is the Burgundian Carnaval, such as in Brabanant region like in Eindhoven, Tilburg, and Den Bosch. The Burgundian Carnaval, is a traditional feast eating event and where people make fun of each other by ridiculing each other. Check out this blog for some places to visit during Carnavals. Wherever you choose to go, what’s important is to have fun!