Costumes and Camaraderie: Carnaval Returns After Corona

By Lukas Stock and Jason Smeets

February 24, 2022. The south of the Netherlands is preparing to celebrate carnaval this weekend for the first time after two years of corona regulations. 9to5 spoke to Brabant and Limburg natives to find out what it’s all about.

After being cancelled for the past two years, “people are eager to celebrate carnaval in an appropriate way,” said Irma Galama, a spokesperson of Tilburg Mayor Theo Weterings. 

“It’s our yearly party, and it’s only from us, only ours,” says Floor van de Leur who grew up in Venlo, a small city in the province of Limburg. 

Joshua Vissers who was born in Tilburg, in northern Brabant, also said that carnaval “is in essence a way to let loose for the southern regions of the Netherlands, to differentiate themselves from the north.”

While the festivities are often seen as one big party, the history of the carnaval goes back to the 17th and 18th centuries. Originally the festivities were seen as the opportunity to eat all the remaining winter supplies before the arrival of spring.

Today, carnaval traditions vary between towns and cities but the celebration is known for its costumes and temporary suspension of social norms. For some locals, this fulfills an important role of increasing social cohesion. “It’s a bit more free and open in the way you socialize with people,” says Rob van de Laar, president of the Brabantse Carnaval Federation.


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♬ original sound – Snollebollekes
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Van de Laar made clear that for him, carnaval is all about letting loose with the people around you: “Your contact with people is like a sort of game,” says van de Laar. “You talk with people in a very enjoyable way but at times it can be very emotional as well.”

It is also “a way to deal with the seriousness of daily life,” mentions Tilburger Visser. “You can just forget for five days in February, it is basically just a pressure valve to escape reality for a little while,” he adds.

A symbol of this change in social norms is both the renaming of cities during carnaval – for example, the city of Bergen op Zoom is renamed “Krabbegat” temporarily – and the temporary transfer of power from the mayor to the local “Prince of the Carnaval”.

The prince of Kruikenstad, Tilburg’s carnaval name, in 2019. Copyright: Wikimedia Commons

When pressed about what carnaval means to him, the owner of Lampegat Winkel, a carnaval store in Eindhoven, simply asked: “Well, do you have a hobby?” He went on to explain that “it’s something fun” and that motivations for celebrating it are “different for everyone.”

Van de Laar also stressed that although carnaval is finally back on, it will be different from other years. “For people in my age group, because I am 68, you question [if you really should go] because the virus is still out there.” 

Although carnaval is going ahead for the first time in two years, many events were not able to be organized in time for the new loosening of restrictions. But for van de Laar the show goes on and he adds, “It will probably just end up being a big party in the pub”

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