Carnival: Party Like You Have the Keys to the City

Heather Tucker, Thursday, March 28, 2013 , 573 Views

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There are a few occasions when arriving in the Netherlands can be a bit...well...unusual. Take for example noon on the first Monday of each month. This is the time when the air raid sirens, now used for public emergencies, are tested. Or New Year’s Eve when the whole country sounds like it is exploding because of the “home” fireworks which are temporarily legal. And then there is Queen’s Day (soon to be known as King’s Day), where everyone and everything is covered in orange and taking part in a gigantic party.

Yes, arrive during any one of these events and you might find yourself frozen to the spot in amusement (or confusion!). And if your holiday takes you to one of the more southern provinces in the week before Ash Wednesday, then we need to add another event to the list – carnival.

Every year in February, carnival is celebrated in Brabant, Limburg and South Gelderland. There are some celebrations in other parts of the country, like Groningen and Friesland, but the festival is celebrated primarily in the Catholic regions of the southern provinces.

Despite the early start some revellers take advantage of, carnival officially begins after the mayor hands the symbolic keys of the city over to the Carnival Prince. The Carnival Prince is named on November 11th (the 11th of the 11th being the day of fools). From then until February, the Council of Eleven (Raad van Elf) is busy with carnival preparations. Once the keys have been handed over until Ash Wednesday, the Prince and his subjects live it up – dancing, drinking and singing – in their temporary kingdom of fools.

Another aspect not to miss is the carnival parades, featuring decorated cars and extravagantly designed floats. Great secrecy and effort goes into the floats and they are a real highlight of the festival.

No carnival is complete without some fancy dress but remember, it’s cold in the Netherlands during February, so forget bare flesh and colourful scanty costumes and think more along the lines of unusual warm clothing and humorous hats.

No matter what you wear, carnival is the time to put your worries aside, play the fool and party like you have the keys to the city.