2014 Carnaval in The Netherlands

Carnaval in The Netherlands

The whole concept of Carnaval in The Netherlands is not quite clear to me yet.  Spelt Carnival in english but Carnaval in Dutch, you tend to notice something going on at this time of year.  Being a Dutch Australian and living here for a number of years now, I am aware of Carnaval in The Netherlands, but until now, I’ve not really taken much time to try and understand it.

Until today, if I had to describe it, I’d say that it’s some kind of religious carnival, celebrated mostly in the south of The Netherlands, where people dress up in crazy costumes – and there is always a prince with a specific type of hat and cape.

Carnavale Prince I asked my Dutch husband to describe Carnaval in The Netherlands – and he went into a little more detail.  His explanation is that it’s traditionally a Catholic Festival and is the “big party” before fasting starts before Easter.  He compared it to the Venetian Festivals where the masks are well known as part of elaborate costumes, and told me that there is a “council of eleven” who annually vote on a Prince.  Both adults and kids get dressed up in costumes and parades and parties are held all over The Netherlands.  He has never really taken part but has often gone along to the parades and encouraged me to do so today near our home in Delft.  We took our two girls (6 & 4 years old) and it was a lot of fun!

delft carnavale

This evening, I was expecting to have to plough through information in Dutch to better understand the festival – I can now read Dutch fairly well but it takes some time.  Instead, I got away with being lazy as Wikipedia has an incredibly detailed history and information on Carnival in The Netherlands.  Its very in depth and I’ve only read some of it, but it’s fascinating.

The music in the parade was certainly cheerful and catchy and this explanation below, taken from the Wikipedia article linked to above, made me laugh, particularly the 5th point!

A good carnaval song has several recognizable ingredients:

  • An easy, catchy “popular” melody
  • A rhythm with ‘leaping’ character: long-short is often continuously rotated and triplets are common
  • Many accents in music and lots of question-answer elements
  • The harmony contains many thirds and sixths
  • The text is easy to remember (thus it can be remembered when drunk), and often humorous in nature to make a point
  • The text is many times sexual, vulgair and offensive in nature or totally non-sense
  • The form usually consists of several verses that alternate
  • Choruses with an accessible, inviting and compelling rhythm: there should be danced on

If you’re new to this blog, you may not yet know that I love photography and it was an ideal situation to go crazy with my camera.  In the relatively short parade in Delft (about half an hour I think), I took around 350 photos!  Many were blurry or duplicates though, so I edited it down to 150 and you can see all of my photos over on my Google+ album by clicking on the image below.

2013 Carnavale Delft

Quite a few times, when those in the parade spotted me with my (decent sized) SLR camera, they stopped walking and grouped together, shouting “Foto, foto” and posed for me!

2014 Delft Carnival

Our girls were thrilled with the fact that many of the groups were handing out “snoepjes” (sweets) or other treats to the kids – often it was kids themselves handing them out and some groups had gone to a lot of trouble putting together little packets or advertising flyers.

DSC_0139 isabella

Some kids obviously were pros at this and took along plastic bags to be filled!


The costumes seemed rather random to me, you had no idea what to expect next!  One minute its zoo animals, and monkey puppets, the next it’s Mexicans!



As with the Dutch culture in general, it seems not much is taboo.

DSC_0219One of the things I enjoyed the most was that it was a parade for all ages.  You had a big mix of men, women and children.  Some children were a bit more enthusiastic than others…


DSC_0314We were stationed along the route into the centre of Delft and after the parade passed, we headed home for a quiet afternoon – though I’m quite sure that the party is probably still going on the centre of town as I write this late this evening!

The police were present – on their bikes! – but it seemed to be quite a peaceful and fun parade – perhaps that will change once countless beers have been consumed (and lots of carnival songs sung) but generally it seems quite a fun festival.

DSC_0029Maybe next year I’ll drag out a costume!


Dutch Australian is a community of those with connections to both Australian and The Netherlands.  This blog follows the adventures of our Dutch Australian family as well as highlighting information and articles of interest to dual nationals.  You might like to read more about me, get to know other Dutch Australian people and explore other articles on the blog.  Come and chat to others over in the Dutch Australian Facebook community, we’d love to meet you!  If you’ve enjoyed this post, I’d really appreciate you taking the time to comment below or share.  You can also contact me directly and sign up for our e-newsletter to keep up to date.

2 thoughts on “2014 Carnaval in The Netherlands

  1. Here in Sydney, during the brief years when the NSW Holland Festival was held in Fairfield, it was fun to see how the ex-Dutch from the southern parts of the Netherlands were gathered around the bar there and ‘celebrating’ in ‘their style’. Here in NSW (and Queensland etc.) Carnaval was celebrated very enthusiastically from the (mid-)fifties well into the 60s+. I so remember clubs like “The Boomerangs”. AS my father was ‘president’ / ‘chair’ of the Netherlands Society in Bankstown, my parents were invited to these events, when the new “prince” would take over. I like to think that my parents thought it was all good fun but coming from Gouda in the middle-to-top-half of the Netherlands it wasn’t really their ‘thing’.

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