Ultimate Guide To Celebrating Dutch Carnaval

Events, Study Abroad, Travel

Guys, you have probably heard of the carnival that is celebrated in Brazil every year. Well, just in case you haven’t heard… The Netherlands also is known to celebrate this holiday! And it’s like North America’s Halloween mixed with Dutch music, Thanksgiving and lots of partying. (Needless to say, I’m looking forward to this.)

Carnival in the Netherlands is called Carnaval, and its traditionally celebrated in the Catholic region of the Netherlands in the south around the provinces of North Brabant and Limburg. Carnaval starts on Sunday and follows through to Ash Wednesday. Although, most students use this holiday as a reason to party and will often party every single night of the year. In 2016, Carnaval falls on February 7th to 9th.

Everyone looks forward to Carnaval each year. There are some people who take a week off work and school simply to celebrate! Dutch Carnaval can be confusing for International students on exchange in the south of the Netherlands. It’s up to you to make this week incredible, by stepping up, committing to the Carnaval spirit and going all out. By wanting to make it the best carnival of your life you will easily find other Dutchies also wanting to do the same. You can decide to remain clueless and remain in your home city, from the outside, you won’t “get it or “understand it”, but don’t be this person, jump in and embrace it!

So, here are some tips that I have learned from my Dutch friends on how to make the most of Carnaval.

  1. Embrace Dutch Music!
    I try to love Dutch music, I really do. But it’s hard when I can’t understand a lot of Dutch and some of the beats come across as very ‘cheesy’. Nonetheless, buck up, smile, and start listening to Carnaval music in advance. Try to learn some of the words. Get familiar with some of the songs. Every club, cafe, pub, and place you go during this week will be playing this kind of music. If you haven’t been able to learn Dutch yet this is this a fun time to learn some of the lyrics, the locals will happily translate them for you. They might go something like: “Have sex with a bald guy” or “There is a horse in the hallway”. Really random lyrics that are either dubbed over a recent chart song or a rip off of a German classic with a Dutch twist.
  2. Dress Up!
    Carnaval is just like Halloween. Do not be lame and say that you are not dressing up. Every single person dresses up every night with different costumes. Imagine going to a music festival like Burning Man, where people put a lot of effort into how they look. It’s like that – or even, like a Halloween party. There will be plenty of sugar skulls, pretend police officers, pirates, and other great costumes all throughout the city centre. A lot of people wear onesies. The whole point of Dutch carnival is to become someone else, let yourself go and have a great time. This is why all Dutch people during carnival will dress up in crazy costumes, the more creative and home made the better.

3. Do Not Wear Clothes You Love!
This is important. Do not wear shoes that you like. The floors of every cafe will be thick with gooey used drink cups. The coat check lines will be long. Keep it simple and wear a jacket that you can live without if its lost and prepare for alcohol to be split all over you in the heat of the moment. Go with the flow and accept that this might happen at least once.

4. Taste Local Beer and Cuisine!
Yes, local beer is delicious – like Heineken, Amstel, Hertog Jam, and Grosch. The craft beer selection in The Netherlands is even better. But don’t forget to stop and eat every once in a while. Dutch snacks are so greasy, salty, and mouthwatering. They are also quick, cheap, and easy to find. Sample a Frikandel XXL special, Kaassouffle, krokets, and hopefully you can find a loempia van for some authentic tasty spring rolls.

5. Buy A Dutch Carnaval Scarf
If you can find a shop that sells these orange and green scarves, pick one up. Often if a local cafe or club is really full, you can still be allowed in by the bouncers if you are wearing one of these.

6. Have Fun!
There is usually lots of great activities and events going on in each and every city in the South. Scout out what’s going on online or download the local city’s app with an agenda. There are often parades throughout the centre. Also, there is a ceremony where the Carnival celebrations start after the mayor symbolically hands over the key to the city to Prince Carnival. 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. Merrymakers make their way from pub to pub and greet Prince Carnival with three cheers of “Alaaf”. Also, it’s said that if you haven’t kissed at least one person during Carnaval then it wasn’t a Carnaval after all.

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