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Carnival is Coming

Carnival 2009/2010 is coming. It first burst onto my tiny expat radar on November 11th as I tried to walk through the Vrijthof on my way to class, only to be stopped by a huge and colorful crowd of people in cow costumes (among other things). A month ago, we began to hear and see many marching bands and tiny parades kept springing up. Now, one week before the event, nearly every house in Maastricht, and all the stores, are graced with the traditional red, yellow, and green banners.

prince guy 1st's palace/house

We discovered this heavily decorated home around the corner from our apartment. I believe that this is actually the "Palace" of this year's Prince.

Of course Maastricht is well known for their beautiful and gregarious Carnival celebrations; complete with a Prince, several parades, and visitors from all over the country. Being not only from the US, but also from New England where our Puritan ancestors didn’t even go in for musical instruments in Church, I find myself curious but rather baffled. Which is why I’m going to send you to the experts. Go read a couple of these articles from Crossroads to get a feel for the event and then come back for my thoughts and plans.

All done? Ok, down to business.

Like I mentioned before, I find the entire exercise to be a bit baffling, but I am very curious to see what the event and parades are like. so this year we’ll be participating in our visit Carnival to the extent our limited language skills will allow.


dan in a hat

A little hint at Dan's costume.

It has been recommended to us that we should dress up for Carnival so we don’t stand out too badly. Several costume shops have popped up around the city with many costume options ranging from cheap Halloween stuff to some seriously well-made 18th/19th century garb in lots of great colors. The Rode Neus, where we shopped for our costumes, offers several levels of quality in their costumes; making fancy dress accessible to everyone. Anything goes seems to be the theme and facepaint and masks are very popular. I’m disappointed that I can’t wear a mask with my glasses. Maybe its time to get contacts.

Carnival events begin on Friday, but the day when the locals dress up (unless your in an event) is Sunday (according to this article). I’m not sure if people also dress up on Monday & Tuesday. Anyone who want to help out on that question, I’d appreciate it.

Our costumes? They are a secret for now, but we’ll have lots of pictures after Carnival.


carnival band

Many Carnival related bands have been in and out of this pub across the street. This particular one woke us up coming back around 12:30 am.

There looks to be several major and minor processions throughout the event, with the main event being the Great Parade on Sunday. We’ll be attending that one and probably a procession or two and the music event on Tuesday as well.

Drinking & Revelry

pub decor

Several of the pubs and cafes have elaborate decorations in place.

This is the main reason a lot of people, or at least the nonlocals, crowd into Maastricht for Carnival. The local and Belgian beers are great of course and I’m curious to see if the pubs have specials for the event.

Serious Play

Of course the flipside of everyone getting dressed up and having a good time is that Carnival is taken very seriously by those who grew up with it. Everything I’ve read suggests that there are several levels of participation in Carnival. Outsiders (like me) only get to participate in a shallow level of revelry revolving around parades and bars and listening to music. We simply don’t have the experience to do or understand more. Locals and people who participate year after year (and speak the local dialect) are able to delve much deeper into the event and participate in the event the “right” way.

This distinction is maintained both by an attitude that outsiders don’t “get it” (ok, you’ve got me there) and a linguistic restriction due to all the most important events and speeches being held in Limburgish (which prevents outsiders from getting too deep). I’d never suggest events shouldn’t be held in the traditional language, but I doubt I’ll ever be at the point where I learn both Dutch and Limburgish fluently enough to understand these speeches. And that is kind of sad.

Our Plan

train decorations

The Maastricht train station is decorated in the traditional colors and, appropriately, umbrellas.

Naturally the only way to learn more about Carnival at this point will be to participate in it to the best of our ability. I’ve included a barebones schedule of events below (plus a link to the original) and I hope we’ll have the chance to watch the parades and partake of a pilsje or three around the Vrijthof. All you expats out there, we’ll keep our eyes peeled for you.

See you there!

Carnival Schedule 2010 (from the Tempeleers website [Dutch/Limburgish])

Roughly translated. I don’t know which, if any, of these events may be by invitation only.
Saturday, 13 February

  • Festive Presentation with the StadsPrins at the Train Station: 13.11
  • Procession to Town Hall on Markt Square. 13.55
  • Transfer of Power from the Mayor to the Prince: 15.11
  • Reception at the Redot (?) of the Prince: 20.11

Sunday, 14 February

  • Ceremony at the ‘Palace’ (home) of the Prince: 10.33
  • Raising of the ‘t Mooswief & 11 gun salute on the Vrijthof: 12.11
  • Official Carnival Parade

Monday, 15 February

  • Family & Children’s Parade: time unknown.

Tuesday, 16 February

  • ‘Zate Hermeniekes-concours’ (all band concert) on the Vrijthof: 14.11 (until 17.00ish?)
  • Children’s Costume Contest in the Bonbonni√®re: 15.11
  • Lowering of ‘t Mooswief and official end of Carnival: 23.55

10 Responses to “Carnival is Coming”

  1. I visited the last year carnival in Rotterdam and found it rather amusing..the color pallette is bright though and attracts you enough to keep you hooked up for sometime. .Lets see what this year’s carnival has in store.

  2. Alison says:

    It’s interesting reading about Maastricht’s Carnivale, as someone who lived in New Orleans for a while and got to experience Mardi Gras. A lot of similarities, it looks like. Even the colors are similar, except in New Orleans the color purple replaces the red in Maastricht.

  3. locusta says:

    Maybe one day I’ll make it to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, at least for comparison sake. I do wonder what the colors are suppose to stand for. I presume purple is related to royalty, but red, green, & yellow? No idea. :)

  4. Alison says:

    I know what the Mardi Gras colors stand for: Justice (purple), Power (gold/yellow), and Faith (green). Some visiting Russian noble in the late 1800s supposedly played a part in designating the colors and the Rex Krewe ran with it.

  5. locusta says:

    I see. Maybe the Maastricht ones have similar meanings. I’ll have to ask around.

  6. afrosalon says:

    I am discovering Carnival, my shop in the Grote Gracht 14 has people coming in looking for wigs, hair extensions to prepare for it. Interesting to read about the similarities between Mardi Gras and Carnival in Maastricht.

  7. I wish I could be in Maastricht to join in the carnival fun. Spent a few hours in Aachen on thursday night, driving from Budapest. many drunker revelers around.

    Have a great Carnival.

    Head to Foot

  8. locusta says:

    I’m already a bit overwhelmed. Last night we went out with a few Dutch people from my husband’s work and we ended up in an extremely crowded pub. People were literally packed in like sardines.

  9. Aledys Ver says:

    You are, in a way, a privileged expat since you got to experience the whole thing first-hand and it’s nice to see that you care to join in. I love how so many of the traditons have a religious or historic meaning. I still haven’t been able to find out what the colours of the flag stand for…
    How about the traditional eating of herring today, on Ash Wednesday? Do they do that in Maastricht, too? In Spain they have the “entierro de la sardina” (burying the sardine) on Wednesday during Carnival, with a funeral procession and all :o)

    Have a nice day!

  10. locusta says:

    I do think people eat herring today, although I don’t think we will. I think, as an expat, its important to try and participate in these sorts of things. I’ve always said I’ll try anything once; which is not entirely accurate but does hold true for these sorts of events.


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