The Dutch carnival is difficult to describe. It’s a crazy blend of costumes, alcohol and really loud music that, honestly, takes some getting used to. I moved to The Netherlands in 2008 only 1 week before Carnival. My husband took me out (he had been here for 3 months while I was back in the US finalizing the sale of our house) in Eindhoven and in our local village during Carnival. It was a culture shock that I would never wish on anyone! I kept thinking “what have we done! Dear God, these people are crazy! We have made a huge mistake!” Thankfully, it only lasted a few days and I had an entire year before I had to face Carnival again.
Before we had kids I really enjoyed carnival. I made a few mistakes but everyone is so intoxicated that no one seemed to notice. Since having kids,though, I have mostly hidden. Loud noises, crowds, and huge amounts of cheap beer were all very unappealing things when experiencing them with a 1 year old (although it’s perfectly acceptable to have kids around during the day). Luckily I was able to blame my hibernation on the kids nap schedule and I didnt have to admit to my Dutch friends that the whole thing felt like work after I had kids. I mean, I cant really drink so the music is loud and horrible. The kids are running around and I’m running after them attempting to keep them from putting cigarette butts in their mouths and wandering off.
I can’t be alone in this. I think you have to be Dutch. Or young. Or child free. Well, young child free. I can totally see my 3 1/2 year old having a blast dressing up and dancing in the street. Going to a parade and having necklaces and candy thrown at him. My 1 1/2 year old would love it as well, honestly, but she is a bit of a handful and I would have trouble keeping her close.
So maybe its just me. I find the whole thing a bit overwhelming.
This year, though, things will be different! I think my kids are capable of handling themselves and I have learned enough to help us all get though it, I mean have a great time!!
First a bit of background:
Carnival is a 3-5 day period. It is a Catholic celebration that takes place around the 6th Sunday before Easter and ends the Tuesday before Ash Wed. At this point, Catholics begin Lent which is a time of fasting and repentance that lasts until Easter. It is basically the same as Mardi Gras, without the boobs (frankly it is generally very cold here during this time). Another main difference is Fat Tuesday. In the US this is a “thing”, it isn’t here. I made this mistake my first year. In the Netherlands Carnival is only celebrated South of the Rhine and Meuse Rivers in the Catholic areas of North Brabant and Limburg, the Northern parts of the country are mostly Protestant. Don’t go to Amsterdam looking to “experience Carnival”, you will be very sad.
So what do you need to know if you find yourself in the Catholic South during this time?
- Wear a costume. This is an absolute must, some bars will not let you in unless you are wearing a costume. I made this mistake my first Carnival, you may feel silly while getting dressed up but if you leave you house without a costume you will look incredibly foolish and stand out like a sore thumb. The costume will depend on where you will be and the time of day. If you are going to be outside, and therefor wearing a winter coat, a funny wig and glasses or crazy makeup is an acceptable costume. If you are going to be indoors or are going out at night you need to put in a bit more effort. Costumes are silly, this is not Halloween. I made this mistake my second year and dressed as a zombie, epic fail.
- Just dance. Seriously, the music is a crazy folk/um-pah/screaming hybrid that you will never understand. Smile and dance with the Dutchies. They seem to know all the words and love everything about this crazy stuff. The fun is contagious.
- Find the parade. Every city will have one. You can google it or look on the citys website for times and routes. The smaller villages are the best bet for kids.
- People are going to be very drunk. Very, very drunk. At any point during the day. Don’t let this surprise you.
- I don’t think this is an official holiday but no one seems to work during this time. Everyone is out in the streets dancing and drinking and having fun. The grocery stores are generally open but don’t expect to get much more done.
- And finally: embrace the craziness of it all or stay home. There really isn’t any in between. Its a few days when people celebrate life and go a bit nuts. Grab a beer and smile.
And remember: this is all very religious and therefore a very good thing.
2012 is the last year that we celebrated carnival in any way. Maybe this year will be different.