The first year I lived in the Netherlands I heard a lot about Carnaval. I live in the ‘Catholic’ south where Carnaval occurs each year (unlike above the rivers) and people are mad for it. I had great expectations. I’ve seen Rio (on the telly), I’ve seen Notting Hill (again, on the telly) and now I had the opportunity to just step outside my door and experience Carnaval. I was very interested, and more than willing to don the required fancy dress and face paints.
Carnaval marks the lead up to Christ wandering the desert. It begins on the Saturday before Lent and ends on Shrove Tuesday, though many people start on the Thursday and have added the Friday too. Actually, in truth, it starts on November 11th (Jokers’ Day) when plans are begun and brass bands walk the streets playing jolly tunes. (Odd when you’re brought up to have 2 minutes silence on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.)
I have now experienced 15 Carnavals – I still don’t really get it. There are parades. There is music. There is a huge amount of beer consumed. That seems to be it for the most part. Oh, there are committees, and venerated people, and good works, and rituals…but mainly it’s an extended bar crawl, or at least that’s what it seems to be for many. I’m fairly sure there’s a religious significance to it too but like Christmas it has changed over the years. When I ask, ‘What’s it all about?’ the answer revolves around having fun.
Thing is it’s hard to have fun at a parade in February. It’s cold, often raining, sometimes snowing, and a couple of years have been hit by stormforce winds.
I suspect beer is the answer to all that.
Each town has it’s own identity at Carnaval. ‘s-Hertogenbosch becomes Oeteldonk and Veghel becomes…Kuussegat – Cow’s Hole.
Not only do the names change but the language does too – everything is written in dialect for Carnaval. There is a huge amount of pride in one’s place to be seen at Carnaval time.
But like I said, I don’t really get it. I enjoy seeing the floats trundling the roads between the villages, going from one parade to the next. And the Children’s Parade is always jolly. But I’ll stick to Pancake Day to mark the beginning of Lent – where’s the frying pan…
For the coming week I’m going back to looking for spring in the form of snowdrops and crocuses, it is March after all, meteorological spring has sprung today.