In the seventeenth century the term carnival gained the upper hand in Europe for the festivities characterised by costumes, parades, installation of a mock aristocracy with its own hierarchy, and exuberant eating and drinking. In mediaeval times people spoke of observing Shrove Tuesday, a final boisterous celebration with lots of food and drink before entering the Roman Catholic period of fasting from Ash Wednesday, in preparation for Easter. One explanation of the word carnival alludes to the relationship between lavish feasting and the following fast, with carne vale meaning ‘flesh farewell’. Another rests on the assumed derivation from carrus navalis, a float pulled through the streets on Shrove Tuesday with dressed up revellers on board.
Carnival in the Netherlands
Carnival is a festival, celebrated primarily in the provinces of Limburg and North Brabant, which takes over daily life for three days. Carnival revellers take to the streets in fancy dress, meeting in pubs and banquet halls. Venues are decorated with masks and serpentines and there is a special carnival music repertoire.
The timing depends on the date of Easter, which changes annually. Carnival Sunday is the seventh Sunday before Easter Sunday. The many Carnival Princes ritually take over power from the civil authorities in villages and towns for three days from Carnival Saturday or Sunday (the transfer of power or handing over of the key). Along with their subjects, the revellers, they celebrate the temporary possession of power over their kingdom of jesters. Carnival revellers dress in their chosen attire and take possession of the streets and cafés in a three-day carnival high. On one of the three carnival days the parade takes to the streets for the triumphal march of the Carnival Prince. In many places around midnight on Carnival Tuesday there is a collective closing ritual to say farewell to the kingdom of jesters and its Prince. Carnival mascots and symbols are then burnt, buried or drowned. On Ash Wednesday everyday life resumes.