Your Guide To Carnaval: WTF?
Since my first day here, people have taken every chance they had to tell me all about Carnaval. Even in August, 6 months before Carnaval begins, friends were exchanging outfit ideas and preparing me for “the best week of the year”. Now, to be honest, I’m not exactly sure how to explain Carnaval. However, I feel like the song Vroukes by Snollebollekes, a song that you are sure to hear on repeat during Carnaval, captures it well;
“Ene keer per jaar gaan alle remmen los”
Once a year all the brakes are off
Even with 6 months of daily stories from past Carnavals and the frequent question, “are you ready for Carnaval”, I definitely did not expect this!
First of all, I feel like it is important to take it back to the origin of Carnaval. The tradition of Carnaval is mostly celebrated in the southern provinces of the Netherlands; Zeeland, Limburg, and my province, Noord-Brabant. It is officially set in the three days before the beginning of lent (though it has come to span almost an entire week), in order to celebrate the beginning of lent and the start of the new year. Today, the Dutch do not really relate the holiday with religion.
It is hard to speak generally of Carnaval traditions, as each village celebrates it incredibly differently. The costumes, music, and customs vary greatly in such a small area. Therefore, I can only speak for my Carnaval here in Uden.
One of the Carnaval traditions in Uden is the optocht, or parade. On Sunday morning, the third day of Carnaval, Patricia and I suited up, me in a bee costume and her as a biker, to go watch the parade. Standing on the side of the road while confetti flew through the air, I decided at that moment that local parades are another thing the Dutch do better. Rather than political candidates driving through town handing out stickers, there were men dressed in leotards and wigs, dancing the ballet in the street. All of the floats were just people being crazy and having fun. I feel like watching the parade gives you a pretty good sense of what Carnaval means to the Dutch.
At its core, Carnaval is the biggest party of the year. For 5 days, people dress up in crazy costumes, sing ridiculous music, drink, and dance. I like to think of it as Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day, and the whole country’s birthday rolled into one. I’m sitting here trying to think of how to capture these 5 days in a matter of words and all I can think of is the phrase my dad says all the time, “those crazy dutchies”. And it’s true! In a good way of course. Everybody has a good time and lets loose. As you stand in the huge tent in the town center, sweat literally drips from the ceiling as hundreds of people squeeze together and dance to some of the most ridiculous music I have ever heard. Normally, I would be incredibly grossed out, but when you’re having a good time it doesn’t really matter. I feel like that is the whole point of Carnaval, nothing really matters. You can wear whatever you want, sing as loud and out of pitch as you want, and dance as absurdly as you want (which is great news for me because my singing and dancing skills are not the best). It really is a time where anything goes, including eating fries at 3 in the morning, and that’s something everybody needs from time to time.
Hopefully, somewhere down the road, I’ll be able to make it back to Brabant for Carnaval, because it just might be my new favorite holiday of the year. Stick around for the rest of Your Guide to Carnaval and find out more about Carnaval music, costumes, etc!!