In the seventeenth century, the term carnival prevailed in Europe to designate festivals that are characterised by masquerades, processions, the establishment of a reign of satire complete with its own hierarchy, and abundant food and drink. In the Middle Ages, there was the Shrove Tuesday celebration, where one could still have one last go at boisterous celebration with loads of food and drink and then, from Ash Wednesday onwards, the Roman Catholic Lent made its entry in preparation for Easter. One of the explanations for the word carnival makes the link between this exuberant celebration and the subsequent fasting: carne vale means farewell to meat. Another explanation for the word arises from its supposed derivation from Carrus navalis, a carnival float in the shape of a ship, which was pulled through the streets on Shrove Tuesday with disguised merrymakers on board.
Carnival in The Netherlands
The Carnival is a festival that grabs hold of daily life for three whole days, especially in the provinces of Limburg and North Brabant. Carnival merrymakers roam masqueraded through the streets and meet up in pubs and banqueting halls. The partying venues are decorated with masks and streamers and the party music has its own carnival repertoire.
The time of the celebration depends on the changing date on which Easter is celebrated each year. Carnival Sunday is on the seventh Sunday before Easter Sunday. On Carnival Saturday or Sunday, the many Carnival Princes ritually take over the powers from the civil authorities in towns and cities for three days (the handing over of the keys) and celebrate the temporary establishment of their jesters’ empire along with their subjects, the carnival revellers. Carnival revellers dress up in attire of their choosing and, for a three-day carnival high, take possession of the streets and cafés. On one of the three carnival days, the pageant wends through the streets: the triumphal procession of Prince Carnival. And around midnight on Shrove Tuesday, in many places in a collective closing ritual, leave is taken of the jesters’ realm and its Prince. Carnival mascots and symbols are then burned, buried or drowned. On Ash Wednesday, daily life begins again.