February 14, 2015 2:58 AM   Subscribe

Carnival in the Netherlands starts tomorrow. Carnival in the Netherlands is called Carnaval, Vastenavond or Vastelaovend, and is most celebrated in traditionally Catholic regions, mainly the southern provinces North Brabant and Limburg. Dutch Carnaval is officially celebrated on the Sunday through Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday, but in many places, festivities have started earlier. 'Alaaf' is a traditional greeting, only used during Carnaval.

Although traditions vary from town to town, some common characteristics of Dutch Carnaval include a parade with floats and costumes that poke fun at local or national politics, a "prince" plus cortège ("Jester/adjutant and Council of 11"), a Peasant Wedding (boerenbruiloft), and eating herring (haring happen) on Ash Wednesday. Many, many litres of beer disappear down thirsty throats, and TV and radio devote hours to popular Carnaval songs whose lyrics are at best earthy, at worst obscene.

Two main variants can be distinguished: the Rhineland Carnaval (locally: Vastelaovend) found in the province of Limburg, and the Bourgondische Carnaval (locally: Carnaval) mainly found in North Brabant. Maastricht, Limburg's capital, holds a street Carnaval featuring elaborate costumes often showing Venetian influences.

Many cities and villages in the Netherlands have an alternative name, only used during Carnaval.
posted by Too-Ticky (17 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Of course carnaval is also celebrated "above the rivers", but it's only a pale imitation, as you'd expect from the people who invented Calvinism and who are more comfortable with hard work than pleasure.

In my home province of Zeeland that distinction is really sharp: Zeeuws Vlaanderen, in places like Hulst frex really knows how to celebrate, while a hop across the Westerschelde, you'd be lucky to get a pathetic primary school lantern parade.

The main interaction the rest of the Netherlands have with the holiday is through the godawful carnaval songs.
posted by MartinWisse at 4:20 AM on February 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've always wanted to bring out an alternative Carnaval album with ironic carnaval songs, or carnaval songs by people who normally do very different things. It would certainly need to contain:

Maak van uw scheet een donderslag - Herman Brood en de Breedbekkikkers
O wat leuk - Drs. P
Zo stoned als een garnaal - Het Simplistisch Verbond

But I'm always having trouble thinking of others.
posted by Too-Ticky at 4:45 AM on February 14, 2015

Of course carnaval is also celebrated "above the rivers", but it's only a pale imitation, as you'd expect from the people who invented Calvinism and who are more comfortable with hard work than pleasure.

Carnaval in 't Noorden.
posted by Pendragon at 4:49 AM on February 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Fun fact number 1: they also rename their cities in the south of The Netherlands during carnaval. Eindhoven - home of Philips industries is called Lampegat (Light Bulb Shithole)
Fun fact number 2: if you pronounce carnaval in the local vernacular, you have to say kernafval, which means nuclear waste
Fun fact number 3: I teach in Eindhoven. As a matter of courtesy, I rescheduled my obligatory class on Tuesday from 9am to 9.30 am. Whatt they don't know is that I will give a lecture using a very loud bullhorn. And just for the occasion I will go full Foucault on them.

God, as a westerner, I hate carnaval. But all those hungover faces and the bewilderment when they have to make sense out of Discipline and Punish: priceless.
I know that God is a dj, but Satan will be lecturing. Next Tuesday 9.30 am
posted by ouke at 5:45 AM on February 14, 2015 [11 favorites]

re "Carnaval in 't Noorden" I had no idea Chas & Dave were Dutch
posted by Flitcraft at 5:45 AM on February 14, 2015

they also rename their cities in the south of The Netherlands during carnaval.

As one Cloggy to another:
Gamma. :-)
posted by Too-Ticky at 5:53 AM on February 14, 2015

I happened to be in Eindhoven during carnaval.

During one of the nights I was in a pub. It was packed of course. There were 4 or 5 guys dressed in matching lederhosen and big fake red beards. That wasn't that noticeable because everyone was wearing a costume or something. Anyway, drinking a beer, people walks 4 or 5 women dressed as milk maids. They go to the bar and order their drinks. No big deal. The bearded guys and the milk maids aren't mingling or anything. The place is packed.

Then all the sudden the regular stops with a halt. One the bearded guys shouts something and the other ones March with a a piece of plywood and set it on the pool table. Then the guy shouts something else and the milk maids come join them. A polka like song starts. They all hop up on the table and do a choreographed dance. The song ends, they hop down and all walk out the bar. It was glorious!
posted by ian1977 at 6:20 AM on February 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

Regular music stops with a halt I mean.
posted by ian1977 at 6:46 AM on February 14, 2015

As a child I never really enjoyed having to ‘dress up’ to go and watch the parade. Not to mention my hometown Losser doesn’t even change their name! So why was I there every year?

They throw (or threw) candy out of the floats. 10 year old me needed no other reason.

Throwing candy as a practice seems to have dwindled in the Netherlands and I have a hard time finding any good articles about it to link to. It is more common in Germany, with the Kölner Karneval (Cologne) as prime example of throwing Kamellen.
posted by Martijn at 6:50 AM on February 14, 2015

I lived in Tilburg for a couple of years. As a redblooded calvinist I always managed to be gone for the carnaval-week (and also the yearly funfair but that's another story).
It's not all costumes and elaborate rituals for the locals though. My local friends told me they just put on a boerenkiel (which is like the standard costume for lazy asses) and made sure to get drunk 6 days straight at their local bar.
posted by Kosmob0t at 7:02 AM on February 14, 2015

Well, Tilburg is squarely in the area that celebrates the Vastelaovend variety, which is typically less elaborate and has fake farmer / poor people costumes. Boerenkielen certainly fit in with that.
posted by Too-Ticky at 7:23 AM on February 14, 2015

My local friends told me they just put on a boerenkiel (which is like the standard costume for lazy asses)

As dressing up goes, it certainly looks lazy, but it's anything but. There's actually a reason for all those boerenkielen.
People assume carnaval is about temporarily taking on a different role. It can be, but Brabantic carnaval is traditionally more about reversal of roles: a random Jan becomes the local prince and cities get a village-like name (den Bosch becomes Oeteldonk, lit. 'frog swamp'). All those 'lazy' boerenkielen basically represent civilised persons who can pretend to be a boorish farmer for a couple of days. Wearing a kiel is part of the tradition!
posted by Sourisnoire at 10:02 AM on February 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Okay, so ... apparently I temporarily live in Kreesiedentie. All I can come up with (I even consulted my giant van Dale!) for the joke that I assume is in there is that it kinda sounds like it rhymes with Presidenty. If anyone could explain that would be awesome... until then I think I've decided I'm going to assume it's a joke about politicians and/or shiny teeth.
posted by sldownard at 10:44 AM on February 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

My guess would be: kreesie = crazy, plus a play on residentie = dwelling, place where one resides, also used for Den Haag as the seat of government.
posted by Too-Ticky at 10:57 AM on February 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Interesting, I just came across "alaaf" in this story (which I'm not entirely sure I trust) a couple days ago. (It's about halfway down the page.) Baader-Meinhaaf phenomenon, maybe?
posted by uosuaq at 1:25 PM on February 14, 2015

People assume carnaval is about temporarily taking on a different role.

No, it's about wearing a silly costume and putting on a weird mask and be free to be really yourself for a couple of days.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:48 AM on February 15, 2015

Today, I made it to my first Carnival parade. This was, however, in Lower Bavaria, so I apologise ahead of time for derailing with German things.

We drove down to Pfarrkirchen, via Egglham. It wasn't until, around 13:00, I saw three burly men, in pink Easter bunny costumes, bouncing to "I love rock and roll", Joan Jett version, while opening beer bottles with their teeth, that I started to understand. First: no one opens their first, and very few open their second, beer with their teeth. Second: I should have remembered that most, if not all, Bavarian village culture is fairly well-lubricated.

The parade itself was like the first scenes of The Warriors, if the gangs were on their way to a dance contest. Each village in the area had themed costumes, some better than others. Some of the villages announced themselves. "Pfarrkirchen! The Vampire Bats are in your town, repping Fledermausdorf!" There were the Rockers and the Clowns, Arabian Nights and the Jungle Book. Other villages' troupes did dance routines in the street, ranging from synchronized waving to pausing to do a quick high-step.

At one point, a group dressed as Minnie Mouse paused in front of us to take shots of schnapps. For that matter, anyone who wasn't driving a tractor had a beer in hand, with the floats and props having bottle holders designed in.

A thing that made me happy, considering how monochromatically white rural Bavaria is, was the village whose carnival prince was a Vietnamese man, beer in hand, in full regalia, tossing candy to children.
posted by frimble at 2:22 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

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