NLCarnivalCarnival is the major winter festival celebrated widely throughout Europe. While Carnival celebrations in southern European countries like Italy and Spain are more renowned, the merriment and madness that accompanies the last days of feasting before the beginning of Lent also occurs in the northern countries of Germany, Switzerland and here, in the Netherlands.

In the Netherlands, on the 11th day of the 11th month at 11 minutes past 11, the Carnival season officially begins and a new Carnival Prince is sworn in. On February 19th, the mayor hands the symbolic keys of the city to Prince Carnival at City Hall and the annual parade takes place through the center of town.

For three days, the Carnival Prince has control of the city and, together with his subjects, celebrates the temporary establishment of their Kingdom of Fools. Celebrants make their way from pub to pub, greeting Prince Carnival with three cheers of “Alaaf”, which is the corruption of elf,the Dutch word for eleven. At midnight on February 21, the Carnival Prince and his Kingdom of Fools are given a ritual goodbye, as Carnival mascots and symbols are burned, buried and drowned.

Carnival or Vastenavond (literally “fasting evening”) as it is known in Dutch, is celebrated mostly in the Catholic regions of the southern provinces of the country, like Noord Brabant and Limburg, though there are also some celebrations in the northern provinces of Groningen and Friesland. Carnival is marked by people dressed in costumes, dancing in the streets along-side decorated floats, and drinking themselves into oblivion, just as they do at other carnival and Mardi Gras celebrations around the world. Carnival in the Netherlands is also marked by the celebration of such time-honored Dutch traditions like the borenbruiloft (farmer’s wedding – a wedding feast for the event) and the haring happen (eating haring), the traditional Ash Wednesday meal.

Monique is a native Californian who has spent the last decade living in Europe and is using it as a launch pad to travel the globe with her family. Visit her blog at www.motravels.com.