Carnival in the Netherlands

Carnival in the Netherlands

It’s just around the corner: carnival in the Netherlands! If you live in the south, you probably know a thing or two about the upcoming festivities. But did you know the following things?

Carnival traditions & Christianity

Carnival marks the beginning of the 40-day fasting period before Easter. In that sense, you may have been under the impression that carnival is a festival that falls under the Christian religion. Whilst doing research on carnival, I interviewed some experts at the carnival museum in Oeteldonk, and it turns out that carnival existed long before it became associated with Christianity!

Why or how carnival first started is a bit of a mystery, but there are some theories. For instance, one theory is that during dark winter periods, people wanted to lighten things up with parties. Another is that when people stored too much food for the winter, they had to consume everything before spring or it would go bad. This "consuming" would inevitably go hand in hand with a lot of merriment. Some are also of the opinion that the carnival festival simply marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring…

Whatever the origin, one thing is clear: there was a lot of drinking, feasting and partying involved, which eventually led to orgies (which the Catholic church highly disapproved of). This is why the church wanted to ban the festival altogether.

However, this ban had little to no success. After a lot of push and pull, the church realised that if they were to make the festival a part of the church, they could influence and also control the event. 

Carnival names for Dutch cities

During Dutch carnival, certain cities get special carnival names, for example:


's Hertogenbosch's carnival name is Oeteldonk. An often-seen symbol is the green frog, which refers to the Oeteldonk marsh. Oeteldonk’s carnival colours are red, white and yellow.


Eindhoven's carnival name is Lampegat (lamp hole). This refers to Dutch electrics company Philips, which was founded in the city, 131 years ago. Lampegat’s carnival colours are orange and blue.


Tilburg's carnival name is Kruikenstad (jug city). Tilburg used to house a lot of textile factories, and, in the 17th century, urine was used to wash and clean wool. The story goes that the people from Tilburg kept their urine in a kruik (or jug) to later sell to the textile factories. Kruikenstad’s carnival colours are green and orange.

Whilst doing my research, I could not find any answers as to why the city names are changed during carnival. The only logical answer that I can think of is that on the evening before carnival, the mayor of the city symbolically hands over the city keys to the Prince of the Carnival. During this period, the Prince rules over the carnival city, hence the changing of the official city name to the Carnival city name. On the last evening of Carnival, the Prince hands the keys back to the mayor and the city gets its official name back again.

Carnival festivities in the Netherlands

Most carnival cities have their own particular customs and festivities. For instance, Oeteldonk has been celebrating carnival since the Middle Ages with a lot of dancing, drinking, food and theatre. To this day, the city celebrates by putting on a play in which the audience is allowed to participate. 

The actors in the play consist of "Prince Carnival" who has an "adjutant" who is selected by the prince himself. The various roles are fulfilled by male participants only, and there is only one female role, Hendrien, or "the housekeeper." What happened to the emancipation of women and modern Holland, I wonder?

Do you live in a carnival city? Do you take part in the festivities? Let us know, leave a comment!

Kirtika van Hunen


Kirtika van Hunen

Kirtika van Hunen is a certified intercultural trainer, writer, coach and founder of Between2Cultures Through her trainings; 'Leading Across Cultures', 'Working effectively with the Dutch', 'Intercultural Awareness and Communication',...

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