The term 'Carnival' became prevalent in seventeenth-century Europe for celebrations which feature disguises, parades, the bent towards a satirical dominion with its own hierarchy and excessive eating and drinking. In the Middle Ages, they called it the Lent Feast (Mardi Gras or Pancake Tuesday) where you could celebrate boisterously with lots of food and drink prior to the Roman Catholic fasting period from Ash Wednesday on, in preparation for Easter. One explanation of the word 'Carnival' makes the connection between this exuberant feast and the fasting period afterwards. 'Carne Vale' means literally 'Meat Farewell'. Another explanation is that the word is supposedly derived from 'Carrus Navalis', meaning a ships cart that was towed through the streets during the Lent Feast, carrying the disguised Merrymakers.
Carnival in the Netherlands
Particularly in the Dutch provinces of Limburg and North Brabant, daily life is firmly in the grasp of Carnival for three whole days. The costumed merrymakers move through the streets and look out for each other in pubs and party halls. The party locations are decked out with masks and streamers and the party music is made up of their own typical Carnival songs.
The time period for this celebration depends on the varying date on which Easter is celebrated each year. The seventh Sunday prior to Easter Sunday is Carnival Sunday. In a ritual called the 'Authority Devolution' or 'Handing over the Key', which takes place on Carnival Saturday or Sunday, the many Kings Carnival take over from the local municipal authorities in the villages and towns. They then celebrate the temporary establishment of their jesters empire, with their subjects, the Carnival Merrymakers. The Carnival Merrymakers dress themselves up in costumes of their choice and then, in a three-day whirl, they take over the streets and the pubs. On one of the three Carnival days, the procession takes to the streets. This is the victory march of King Carnival. Then, around midnight on Carnival Tuesday, in many places there is a collective closing ritual, bidding a formal farewell to the jesters empire and its King. Carnival mascots and symbols are then burnt, buried or drowned. And on Ash Wednesday there is a return to normal daily life.