Carnival (Dutch: Carnaval; also called “vastenavond” – eve of the fasting or Limburgish: “vastelaovend”) is originally an European Pagan spring festival, with an emphasis on role-reversal and suspension of social norms. The feast became assimilated by the Catholic Church and was celebrated in the three days preceding Ash Wednesday and Lent.
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.
In modern times the connection with religion has disappeared, though its date is still set before the start of the Christian feast of Lent. Also the core of the modern Carnaval has retained its socially critical function by role reversal and temporary abandonment of social norms. The first day of Carnaval is six weeks before Easter Sunday. Carnaval officially begins on Sunday and lasts three days.
Though according to tradition the feast lasts from Sunday until Tuesday. In recent years the feast usually starts on Saturday. Also Friday evening (or at schools at Friday afternoon) and in some places Thursday (Ouwe Wijven) are considered the start of Carnaval, which makes it a six days celebration. The festivities last the entire day and well into the nights. Some parades and many balls and bonte avonden or other meetings are held in the weeks before the official Carnaval, but never before the first official court meeting on November 11. Historically the 40 days of Lent would start on Wednesday at midnight and continue until Easter. Nowadays it is still the official ending of Carnaval, though some Carnaval activities such as herring eating are traditionally held on Wednesday after Carnaval. Lent itself is generally not practiced anymore by the Southern Dutch population as a result of irreligion dominating the area nowadays.
Dutch Carnival Traditions
The Carnival celebrations start after the mayor symbolically hands over the key to the city to Prince Carnival. For three days, the Carnival Prince has control of the city and, together with his subjects, celebrates the temporary establishment of their Kingdom of Fools. Merrymakers make their way from pub to pub and greet Prince Carnival with three cheers of “Alaaf”.
If you can drink, sing and dance wearing a colorful outfit you’re more than welcome to celebrate Carnival in Holland! Make sure you wear a crazy Carnival costume and you’ll blend in perfectly.