February 2024 | Written by – Willem Van Hoorn

I am not going to say that the Dutch can out-party a Brazilian Carnival, if only because of the weather. But we come a long way, especially in the south of the county. As we’ll see another edition of Carnival, February 9th – 13th, I’ll be taking a closer look with you at this yearly multi-day festivity, in this edition of my blog.

Carnival is traditionally a Roman Catholic festival. It was initiated by the catholic church, incorporating elements of the traditional local pagan spring festivals. And you can still see that, if you look where Carnival is being celebrated. Both in which countries and, at least in the Netherlands, in which parts of the country: the traditionally Catholic provinces of Noord Brabant and Limburg. So ‘south of the rivers’, as the Dutch would call it.

Carnival is celebrated during the days preceding the Christian holidays of Lent. Having said that, nowadays many people no longer have any religious connotation whatsoever. For them it is just a nice reason to party. In spite of the western world’s going by a solar calendar, there are ‘lunar elements’ in the timing of carnival. Here we go: the 40 days preceding Easter was the traditional period of Lent. And the days before Lent are the period of Carnival. And Easter occurs on the first Sunday after the full moon that occurs on or after the spring equinox. As a result of all this, the first possible Carnival can take place on February 1st, and the latest on March 9th.

From what I found, the origin of the word Carnival can probably be traced to the Latin expression Carne Levare, or Italian Carne lavare or Carnem levare. That can be translated into “farewell to the flesh” or “taking away the flesh”, which was a ritual to prelude Lent.

From the perspective of the sociologists, Carnival traditionally was a period of ‘temporary societal role inversion’. For a couple of days per year the fools would reign the country or the city, instead of the elite. And they would even mock the elite and the rulers, or their policies. By consensus, the rulers would let it be, and even play along. Because they knew full-well that this was a way to ‘let-off some steam’, to release social tensions.

Even nowadays, in many Dutch cities, at the onset of Carnival the mayor of the city symbolically hands-over the key to the city to ‘the fool in chief’: Prince Carnival. Essentially every city or village changes its name, for the time being. During Carnival, Eindhoven is called ‘Lampegat’ (‘the lamp’s hole,’ with that ‘hole’ being Dutch slang for ‘a little village’). During Carnival, a reference to Philips Light Bulb industries. The leading motto this year is ‘Lampegat op zunne kop’ (Lampegat upside down). And yes, dear sociologists, it is indeed only temporary: at the end of the Carnival period, Price Carnival will return the key of the city to the mayor.

Those who celebrate Carnival prepare in different manners. Some spend weeks designing and sewing a full custom, fitting within a certain theme. Others just get themselves a shawl and/or a funny hat of some sorts, and dive in. In many cities the local Carnival associations spend months building their contribution to the yearly Carnival parade. A giant display on wheels, often depicting a current news item, or some local political item (‘mocking the rulers’, remember?).

For some, Carnival is not complete if they have not been in what they see as one of the major Carnival cities, Like Den Bosch, Maastricht or Bergen op Zoom. But I can assure you that Eindhoven is more than capable of offering you a Carnival experience that you can fully submerge in. Carnival in Eindhoven starts on Friday afternoon at 15:00 hours, with the so-called ‘3 uurkes vurraf’, dialect for ‘3 hours in advance’, at city hall square. The event is now fully booked, but should you want to, you can watch it online on the local television station, Omroep Brabant.

The Eindhoven carnival parade will take place on Saturday afternoon, February 10th, from 1:11 pm. The entire program of the Eindhoven Carnival can be found at the website (in Dutch) of the Eindhoven Carnival Associations: Lampegat.com.

I wish you a lot of fun!

PS: be advised that, during Carnival, ‘normal life’ will more or less come to a standstill in the south of the Netherlands. Schools will be closed, and shops and public offices may have other than regular opening hours.

This blog was originally published in February 2023. It has been updated to include dates and information for Carnival 2024.