Dutch Language Blog

There’s a Horse in Hall! or Carnival in the Netherlands Posted by on Mar 3, 2014 in Culture

Campy Dutch music blaring from the speakers. Costumed freaks on the train. Streets littered with beer bottles and cans…

It’s that time of year again: Carnival!

A painting from 15th century artist Jheronimus Bosch depicting Carnival-like festivities has led scholars to guesstimate that Carnival has been celebrated in the Netherlands since 1385.

As the Netherlands is a country with roots steeped in Catholicism, it’s no surprise that Carnival is a largely Catholic celebration.

It’s thought that the name Carnival is derived from a combination of the Latin words carne (meat) and vale (farewell). Which makes sense seeing as Carnival is celebrated the week prior to Lent.

Carnival is mainly a southern thing – maybe because of its proximity to Carnival-crazed Germany, maybe because it was largely spared of the Protestant reformation that swept and kept hold of the northern provinces.

There are a number of fun things associated with Carnival besides meat, beer, and bizarre costumes. Here are a few:

  1. The election of the Carnival Prince. Each participating town selects one lucky Dutchie to be the Carnival Prince. His swearing-in ceremony takes place in November, but the gig doesn’t officially start until the Friday before Ash Wednesday. As Carnival Prince, you get to run the city and oversee the festivities for the duration of Carnival.
  2. Parades. Floats featuring grotesque papier-mâché figures, outlandish costumes, and marching bands playing oompah music are staples of any good Carnival parade.
  3. The Polonaise. Or, as I like to think of it, the Carnival Conga! It’s actually a Polish dance that involves placing one hand on the shoulder of the person in front of you (your other hand will be otherwise occupied with holding your beer) and bopping around the space in a long human chain. If you can do the Locomotion, you can do the Polonaise.
  4. Haring Happen. Grab a herring dotted with raw onion bits by the tail, tip your head back, and down the hatch it goes! Haring happen isn’t just reserved for Lent, but it is part of the Ash Wednesday tradition.

If you want to get into the Carnival spirit, here’s a playlist of must-have songs:

  1. Er Staat een Paard in de Gang by Andre van Duin
  2. Uche, Uche by Vader Abraham
  3. Polonaise Hollandaise by Arie Ribbens
  4. Zak es Lekker Door by De Deurzakker
  5. Bij Ons Staat op de Keukendeur by De Twee Pinten
  6. De Liefde van de man Gaat Door de Maag by Ria Valk
  7. Bloemetjes Gordijn by Wim Kerten en de Viltjes
  8. Ik Wil Op m’n Kop een Kamerbreed Tapijt by Barry Hughe en de Kwaffeur
  9. Brabantse Nachten Zijn Lang by Arie Ribbens
  10. ‘s Nachts Na Tweeën by De Havenzangers

What’s your favorite thing about Carnival in the Netherlands? And, if you have a song to add to our list, let us know in the comments below.

Photo credit: FaceMePLS, Flickr creative commons
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About the Author: tiffany

Tiffany Jansen is an American magazine and copywriter in the Netherlands.