Maastricht Carnival

Maastricht Carnival

Maastricht Carnival

My second most favourite time of year and one of the most wonderful aspect of life here in Maastricht, you cannot help but love it !

Carnival in The Netherlands is generally limited to the catholic areas of the country, which is to say, the southern Limburg area. The city of Maastricht has the largest carnival celebrations. It is a Burgundian feast whose origins are at best a little shady but it seem to be a mix of a Roman Saturnalia, a Celtic fertility festival, and the ecclesiastical feasts of fools.. Whatever the origins the result is a wonderful few days where reality is suspended and chaos is allowed to roam the streets. It is a terrific family event of costumes, parades, street bands, parties and celebration. A great family event, safe for children, in fact they make the event.

It is a great time to come and visit the city, but you have to book a hotel at least a year in advance and do not expect to come here to shop. Many of the city shops shut down during Carnival which is not necessarily a bad thing as it forces you to focus on the spirit of the event, so just go with the flow and enjoy yourself. If you are thinking of coming to see it for yourself you need to book your hotel a year in advance.

The Origin Of Carnival

The origin of carnival appears to be mainly three-fold ;

Firstly, the Roman Saturnalia, Bacchanalia, and Lupercalia festivals. These were fertility rituals connected with the succession of the seasons. Slaves and women were sometimes allowed to be the boss for a while. This aspect of carnival made it through the centuries to give women the right to ask men to wed them, and sometimes demand more than a mere marriage from them!

Second, the Germanic-Celtic pendants of the Roman festivals. These were also linked with fertility, and hence with death. The Wilde Jacht, or Wild Chase, represents a procession of slain warriors, led by the one-eyed supreme god Wodan on his white steed.

Third, the ecclesiastical feasts of fools. These held a reversal of the normal hierarchy as well. Since medieval times, the Catholic Church has gradually substituted Christian counterparts for the old heathen customs, their little originality in Christianity really and almost all aspect of it can be traced to pagan roots. Accordingly, Shrove Tide (Shrove Tuesday) was the last occasion for pleasure before the beginning of Lent.

Here in the south we often tease our northern neighbours who do not seem able to hold successful carnival. I think it is the fact that their Protestant leanings has left a big straight stick in their shirts. Northerners try to organize carnival, but the truth is that you cannot ‘organize’ a fever, which is what Carnival is. You get  it and you go to meet others who got  it. What has to be organized, is organized by those who know they will get it themselves. That is something totally different than organising costumed feasts.

Carnival In Maastricht

Carnival starts in Maastricht with the running up the flagpole of “het mooswife”, the green grocerwoman and the firing of the cannon on the Vrijthof, the big square in the middle of the town. That is followed by the grand procession, followed in turn by three days and nights of celebration! In the streets, in the pubs and everywhere. For three days and nights one just has to walk, dance, sing, jump and play on the streets and in the bars. The celebration is a family event, one where we all dress up and enjoy the atmosphere. While we do not officially get leave from our places of work many do make sure that holiday and even sicknesses are timed to coincide with the event!

Every year there is a new “Prince Carnival” with his Council of Eleven, every year there is again a crazy new carnival song, that you can hear being sung and played everywhere, and naturally, you sing and dance with complete strangers, all together, in some costume or other, in the streets, in the inns which have been completely cleared for the occasion, except for the beer taps. Out of one hostelry, into the next. Bands roam the streets and Music resounds through the streets. The Carnival is held in late winter and so often there is still snow about but with a great many warm and cosy bars and restaurants in the town you always have some where to warm up.

The brass bands that roam the streets during carnival start off playing the carnival song, but as time goes on they play various traditional tunes. Then as they become increasingly lubricated with drink their playing gets increasingly eclectic and the bands play different tunes from each other, after a little while even individual band members are playing different tunes. The noise on the streets is so loud that even Judith and Nicholas though both profoundly deaf can hear the sounds!

There are no better words to describe the carnival than an ebullient and exuberant peoples feast. Despite the city being jammed packed with revellers each of whom soon becomes somewhere about 80% proof there is rarely any trouble such is the good spirit of the event. It is a wonderful event experience for all the family and safe for even little children to come along with their parents, everyone dressed up of course. The only thing you must look out for are east the European and North African pick pockets.

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