In seventeenth century Europe, festivities characterised by an abundance of food and drink, disguises, parades and the rule of mockery with its own hierarchy are given the term carnival.
In the Middle Ages it was a matter of one last noisy celebration with lots of food and drink on the eve of Shrove Tuesday followed by Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of the Catholic period of fasting as a preparation for Easter.
In one of the definitions of the word carnival, the relationship between this exuberant festivity followed by fasting is explained as ‘carne vale’ meaning ‘farewell to meat’. Another definition suggests the word comes from the supposed derivation of ‘carrus navalis’, a ship-like cart full of revellers in disguise pulled through the streets on the eve of Shrove Tuesday.
Carnival in the Netherlands
For three full days the provinces of Limburg and North Brabant especially are in the grip of this festival called Carnival. Partygoers dress up to parade through the streets and meet in pubs and party halls. Festivity venues are decorated with masks and streamers, and the party music has its own Carnival repertoire.
The time of the celebration depends entirely on when Easter is held which changes yearly. Carnival Sunday is the seventh Sunday before Easter Sunday.
On the Saturday or Sunday of Carnival, the many Princes of the Carnival are ritualistically handed over the power or keys of towns and villages from civil authorities, and celebrate with their subjects and revellers the brief existence of their jesters’ kingdom. Revellers dress up however they want and for three days take over the street and cafés in carnival frenzy.
On one of the three days, there is a Carnival Parade through the streets, celebrating the triumph of the Carnival Prince. Around midnight on the eve of Shrove Tuesday, many places conduct a communal closing ceremony to say goodbye to the Prince and his jesters’ kingdom. Carnival mascots and symbols are then burnt, buried or drowned. On Ash Wednesday, life resumes its ordinary routine.