Dutch Language Blog

Carnaval: 24-hour party people Posted by on Mar 6, 2011 in Dutch Language

I will continue to “rep” Limburg this week and treat you all to a little taste of the Carnaval festivities that tear up Maastricht (and the surrounding area) every year for the few days before Lent.  And when I say tear up, I do not joke.  People from all over the Netherlands come to the south to forget themselves for a few days, and those who have lived here for their whole lives party hard for the duration.

Scooters on parade

One of the best things about Carnaval is that no one goes out without a costume, or pakje. For several days, the city is awash with color, and the streets fill up with multicolored varieties on eighteenth century dress, and/or oversized animals.  The young sometimes dabble in contemporary pop cultural references, as well:  I saw a great Big Lebowski walking around on Friday night.  As with Sinterklaas festivities, Carnaval feesters have been known to go out in blackface, which adds to the general feeling that one is experiencing something that has been happening routinely since the Middle Ages.

This girl even had color-coordinated fake eyelashes!

The fact that there is such a vast difference between the Carnaval festivities in the South (massive) and in the North (nonexistent) is one of the remaining indications of the religious split between the Protestant north and the Catholic south in this country.  Many people in Limburg get the week of Carnaval off of work, and the celebrations are so beloved that when they end on Tuesday night, at midnight, many people weep drunkenly at Carnaval’s passing.  As an outsider, even a half-Dutch outsider, it’s difficult to relate to the spirit of eternal fun on the street, but it is equal parts alienating and contagious.  The streets are often so clogged with people that walking from point A to point B is like walking through a crowded nightclub at 2 o’clock in the afternoon.  There are literally countless harmonietjes, or musical ensembles playing brass instruments — one outside every bar, with sheet music clipped to their instruments.  Beer flows in rivulets between the cobblestones.  It is a great inauguration into lente — in Dutch, the word for both Lent and Spring.

A blue bear and a tiger head off into the night.

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  1. Jan:

    South Holland ? Which weirdo is writing this ?