Dutch Language Blog

Celebrating Carnival in Limburg! Posted by on Feb 19, 2015 in Culture

From Thursday of last week until Tuesday of this week, some areas of the Netherlands (specifically Brabant and Limburg) celebrated carnaval. These areas are traditionally more katholiek than the rest of the Netherlands, and perhaps that is a reason why the celebrations are still so big. It also helps that neighboring Duitsland, another big carnaval country, celebrates it as well.

This was my first experience with carnaval and I had so many questions about the history, customs, costumes, etc. Lucky for me, a professor from the university gave my master’s group a lecture on the history of carnaval. Traditionally, we connect carnaval to the Catholic Church, however, the tradition goes back all the way to Mesopotania where criminals would dress up as kings and were paraded around before their execution. In Ancient Greece, there was a festivity that celebrated the god Dionysus, and in the Roman Empire there was a Saturnalia feast where social classes were suspended and slaves could dress up and ridicule their masters. During the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church was unsuccessful in banning carnaval so they integrated it with Easter.

Carnaval is a feast about forgetting (sorrows, problems, social classes, etc.) and about pleasure (eating, drinking, sex, etc.). Because everyone is dressed up as something crazy, anything can happen. You can act crazy in front of your friends without worrying because…well its carnaval. You can meet someone you would have normally not talked to because…well they are dressed up for carnaval. As they say here in Limburg, the only rule is that there are no rules!

My first experience with carnaval was very varied. On Saturday, we dressed up and went to Roermond. Already on the train, people were in costumes, drinking and enjoying themselves. In Roermond, there was music and, of course, drinking. The drink of choice was beer although there was also wine, water and sodas. What I enjoyed most was the variety and the effort put in the costumes. A good number of people didn’t just buy a costume at a carnavalswinkel but rather made a unique and intricate design themselves. Many people had their faces painted with many colors and designs and some with feathers.

Roermond (personal photograph)

(personal photograph)

On Sunday, we enjoyed the parade where we live. There were floats and people parading, everyone in costumes. Some people had funny jokes with play-on-words like the man who was screaming in a high pitch and was walking like if he had to pee. He had a sign saying hoge noot which means “high note” but sounds like hoge nood and means I really have to pee.  There was another group whose costumes were like the carts of a achtbaan or a roller coaster while the parade float was a roller coaster. The people were walking behind the float and would re-enact the ups and downs of the roller coaster with their movements and screams. And of course, the Prinsen Carnaval from different towns were part of the parade, and they threw candy to the very excited kids. At night, we went to the lichtstoet or the light parade in Beek, which is apparently one of a kind in the Netherlands. There were many singers and very intricate floats with lights and music.

Parade in Beek (personal photograph)

Parade in Beek
(personal photograph)

My carnaval celebration ended on Sunday night, but other towns and cities continued to have parades, music, and people everywhere were still dressed up. It definitely was a gezellige experience that I am happy to take part in!

What are your thoughts on carnaval?

Tags: , , , , ,
Keep learning Dutch with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it

About the Author: Karoly Molina

Since I was a little girl, I was fascinated with languages and writing. I speak English, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and a little bit of French. I am a writer, reader, language teacher, traveler, and a food lover! I now live in The Netherlands with my husband Riccardo, our cat Mona, and our dog Lisa, and the experience has been phenomenal. The Dutch culture is an exciting sometimes topsy-turvy world that I am happily exploring!


  1. Afnan:

    That sounds exciting!