The origin of the name “Carnival” is unclear, but there are several theories. One suggestion is that the name comes from the Italian carne, or carnovale. Others claim that it comes from the Latin words caro (meat) and vale (farewell), hence “farewell to meat”. Yet another theory states that it originates from the Latin carrus navalis, which was some kind of Greek cart carrying a statue of the god Apollo in a religious procession at the annual festivities in his honour.
The preparations for Carnival begin long beforehand. When I started writing this article on January 6th, I spoke with George who was just going out for the election of the Prins (the Prince who is nominally in charge of the three-day events.) In Maastricht, the whole city turns into one big party centre during the three days before Lent1 and there is a special flag raised on the Vrijthof (town hall) midday Sunday and lowered at midnight Tuesday to mark the beginning and the end of the festivities!
The Carnival song is to be heard everywhere, not least being performed by the famous zaate herremeniekes (‘drunken brass bands’) which perform surprisingly well. The music should be strictly in dialect with a new song each year. Many locals save up2 for this festivity, dressing in elaborate3 costumes, making it a definite highlight4 of the year. During Carnival, many traditions are kept alive, like the boerenbruiloft (farmer’s wedding), the ‘Mooswief’ (a bigger-than-life puppet representing a market woman) and the haring happen (eating raw herrings) on Ash Wednesday5, but these traditions vary from town to town.
Much of the day is taken up with the procession of floats, lorries and wagons decorated to display various themes. In Geleen, there is a minor parade for children in the morning and then the main one for adults in the afternoon. A lot of work is put into them and they can are an impressive sight. While sometimes political, these costumes are more often than not simply absurdly humorous. The parades are not the sole focus of the occasion – it’s more about bringing the streets to life by partying. It is said that some people don’t return home for three days and just live in the streets!
Some cafés and pubs clear out the furniture to make room for more customers and never seem to close. There is much drinking, particularly local brands of lager6 and white wine, but, unlike Britain, there is little or no drunkenness or bad behaviour in the streets. After Carnival, one is supposed to fast7 for 40 days until Easter, but hardly anyone does that anymore and more usually people try to give up a bad habit or two.
You can get a very good impression of the Carnival in Geleen (and the local dialect) from their website, www.flaarisse.nl, (which even tells you how many days, hours, minutes and seconds to the next major event) and shows excellent illustrations. But naturally, there is no substitute for paying a visit and enjoying for yourself the famous Limburg hospitality!
1 Lent – Великий пост 2 save up – откладывать деньги 3 elaborate – тщательно разработанный 4 highlight – ключевой момент 5 Ash Wednesday – пепельная среда; день покаяния (среда на первой неделе великого поста) 6 lager – лёгкое пиво; лагер 7 fast – поститься