Getting ready for Carnival in Limburg
Do you also consider it impossible to find yourself on a bus packed with crocodiles, witches and even Superman?
Well, there are some special occasions in the Netherlands when you can have such an experience. Oh yes, the Carnival!
Here’s a step-by-step guide to diving into the costumed masses of Limburg this Carnival season.
› Step 1: Is actually step 11
While Carnival itself is well known, not so many people know what it takes to successfully organise such an event. In fact, preparations for the Carnival keep many local citizens busy the whole year long.
The season officially begins, however, on 11:11 a.m. on 11 November, when the crowd gathers in the Vrijthof square in Maastricht for the opening ceremony.
And yes, there is something special about the number 11: it is magic. As Carnival approaches, the fools' number is used in all manner of ways, including in dates and times of parties, number of years as a multiple of 11, number of participants in a group, and so on, to ensure its power is fully exploited.
› Step 2: The Princely pairs
Organisers and participants shift gears in January and don't slow down until the end of Carnival’s three-day reign.
During the long, dark winter days, local parade teams and music bands are busy working on their stunning vehicles and costumes for the parade.
To the outside world, people's creativity shows itself in window decorations all over the cities, with the Carnival flag hanging on every other house.
Real-life social networks are now on fire to choose the people who are most worthy of being Carnival princes and princesses. In the month before Carnival, a prince is elected somewhere in the region almost every second (or so it feels).
This year, Prince Henri I and Princess Diana are the main rulers. Their majesties have made about 200 appearances in February, co-ordinated by the 25 active members of the main organisers group, de Tempeleers. The princely pair visits schools, hospitals, elderly homes and gala dinners.
› Step 3: Left, right, left
Behind closed doors, music bands are also preparing for opening the spring season, as participation is not limited to dressing up, but can also be about playin' it loud.
Traditional music is supplied by the zaate hermeniekes, mostly amateur marching bands playing brass instruments and drums. They are usually a very close group of friends rather than a group of musicians, and the noise they make is a perfect complement to the wildly coloured clothing they wear.
But for many years now, Carnival has also been an event for samba bands. It is a fact that samba and Carnival go hand in glove, even in Limburg, and these bands' openness presents a unique opportunity for people to join the parade.
"Show yourself, and you'll get invited," said Hans Schreurs, a long-time member of Entusiasta, one of the eight participating groups in Maastricht.
Both traditional and samba bands spend as much time preparing their costumes as they do rehearsing the music. The bands always try to create a unified look, with the same basic costumes, which are then personalised by the members. They also put a lot of effort into accessories, including giant decorated hats and elaborate face painting.
As an enthusiastic visitor, it's not difficult fit in with the look. The Carnival colours of red, yellow and green are always a good choice, and the only limit to creating an astonishing outfit is your creativity.
› Step 4: Party!
"It's not just a beautiful parade, but, as we call it in Maastrichts, a boonte störm - a storm that takes over the streets of the city," says Guy Bannier for organisers de Tempeleers. His organisation spends a large part of the year finding new ways to present this classic local event in a way that showcases the region’s language, songs and identity.
There are, however, some standard elements to the festival. The opening ceremony on the Vrijthof on the first day, the Sunday, features the shooting of 11 cannonballs, as well as putting the symbol of the Carnival, the Mooswief (market woman) on a high pole.
The next day is for families, with the children’s parade, and on the last day, a friendly competition of music bands take place. Musicians suggest that Onze Lieve Vrouweplein is a place to go for music lovers.
"Carnival is the most important cultural event in the city, and we do everything to bring it to new audiences, especially to the young," says Bannier.
This year, Carnival is on March 2, 3 and 4.