In the seventeenth century, the festivities characterised by costumes, processions, the setting up of a mock rule with its own hierarchy and overindulgence in eating and drinking became widely known in Europe by the name ‘carnival’. In the Middle Ages, the evening of Shrove Tuesday was the occasion of one last, noisy feast, accompanied by copious amounts of food and drink before Lent, the Roman Catholic fast leading up to Easter, began on Ash Wednesday. The link between the extravagant festivities and the subsequent period of fasting offers us one explanation for the name ‘carnival’: a farewell to flesh (meat), from the Latin carne vale. In an alternative explanation, the name is supposedly derived from carrus navalis, which was a cart in the form of a ship, pulled through the streets on the evening of Shrove Tuesday and carrying costumed revellers.
Carnival in the Netherlands
Carnival is celebrated mainly in the provinces of Limburg and Noord-Brabant where it takes over everyday life for three days each year. Participants in a multitude of costumes take to the streets and congregate in bars and party venues. The venues are decorated with masks and streamers and there is also special carnival music.
The date the celebrations begin is dependent on the annually changing date on which Easter falls: the seventh Sunday before Easter Sunday is Carnival Sunday. On that day, or the day before, Carnival Saturday, the many Carnival Princes (elected anew each year in the towns and villages) ritually usurp the power of the local authorities in those towns and villages (the transfer of power or the handing over of the key of the city) and proceed, together with their costumed ‘subjects’, to celebrate the temporary establishment of their fools’ realm. Carnivallers dress up in the costumes of their choice and, in three days of intemperate Carnival enthusiasm, take over the bars and streets. On one of the three days of Carnival, the procession, representing the Carnival Prince’s victory march, weaves its way through the streets. At midnight on Carnival Tuesday, in many places, there is a collective closing ceremony in which carnivallers take their leave of their fools’ realm and its ruler. The symbols and mascots of Carnival are then burned, buried or drowned. On Ash Wednesday, everyday life returns to normal.