I know, I know. “Not another post about Dutch carnival”, you’re thinking. Believe me, there’s more where that came from, but I’ll keep it for next year. But I do want to post the photos I took at our local carnival parade in Wijchen and there were a few unusual stories during Carnaval in 2016 that I wanted to share.

Refugees and carnival

Many people were wondering what the refugees from the Middle East who are guests here at the moment would make of carnival. To make sure they weren’t completely surprised, the COA – Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers – distributed leaflets explaining the phenomenon and laying down a few rules. There was even another version for Dutch nationals who come from parts of the country where carnival is not celebrated!

In Maastricht, 55 refugees from several countries and 20 Dutch students formed their own impromptu carnival association, Common Carnaval, After the students from the Art Academy in Maastricht came up with the idea, they put it all together in just a few weeks, building a carnival float and making costumes. The costumes were mostly made by a tailor who had fled from Iraq, helped by local women. They combined dark cloth symbolising the refugees’ desperate journey, contrasting with light cloth symbolising the different cultures, all having fun together. The carnival prince, Prins Ali d’n Ierste (Prince Ali the First), is a Syrian refugee from the Aleppo area and, surprisingly, he says that he has taken part in carnival before because there are a few places in Syria where it is celebrated, but only as a one-day festival. The same article shows a photo of a group of refugees in the northern town of Ootmarsum (Overijssel) who took part in the carnival parade dressed as bakers, with a play on words. Instead of Heel Holland Bakt, the Dutch version of the hit show the Great British Bake-off, their banner said Heel Holland Bedankt (thank you to the whole of Holland). Great examples of integration!

Anything goes at carnival? Rules about what to wear

All parades have conduct rules about noise levels, whether or not beer is allowed during the procession, smoke machines, etc. Pretty much anything goes as far as costumes go. Political correctness is not one of the aims of carnival. There is no debate about dressing up as Asians or American Indians or gays (just see my photos). However, racist slogans are not acceptable, and there was a storm in a teacup this year when the carnival committee in Nijmegen banned dressing up as terrorists or cowboys, i.e. no weapons. Of course this raised the hackles of those who like to imply that the locals are being hard-done-by and are losing their liberty to keep Muslim refugees happy. None of which was true, of course. The carnival committee had to explain that people could wear whatever they wanted, but not if they were taking part in the parade and cowboys would be fine, just not if they were gun-slinging.

Steampunk carnival

IMG_2389 Carnaval Wijchen steampunk specsApparently one of the upcoming trends in costumes this year was steampunk. Sadly I didn’t see anyone dressed like the photos in De Gelderlander, although I did see one young man with some steampunky glasses. I would love a steampunk outfit. Teenagers and students tend to pick ‘sexy’ and inexpensive outfits and accessories. Young adults with a bit more money to spend prefer to invest in something they can wear for several years, hence the investment in steampunk gear that costs much more.

Accidents and cancellations

A carnival float ran amok in Tubbergen, a village near Almelo in the north-east of the Netherlands. The beautifully-lit moving carnival float suddenly speeded up, stopped suddenly and one of the giant figures fell off the front of the float, injuring 3 people. Just goes to show that it’s probably not a good idea to transplant the idea so far north; it’s a ‘below the rivers’ tradition.

 Carnaval Wijchen 2016 – my photos

The Prins Carnaval this year was John Holl, the man who dressed up as Frau Antje and was seen on television during the Football World Cup in Brazil, so there were lots of jokes about that. Some slogans, costumes and themes referred to Frau Antje. There were also plays on words on the name Holl. For example, the word hol means cave or den, so there were  Hollbewoners (cave-dwellers), and something about Holl-ant instead of Holland.

The theme for the carnival parade in 2016 in Wijchen was Fout jaar (fout joar in dialect), meaning something like tasteless year or wrong year. Fout also means mistake, so it gave everyone plenty of room for interpretation. It also linked in with international news of mistakes and wrong-doing such as the VW emissions scandal, the FIFA bribery scandal and the wrong winner being announced at the Miss Universe contest. There was also reference to the ‘wrong result’ with the Dutch football team failing to qualify for next year’s Europa Cup.

On the tasteless side of things, there were plenty of bad taste costumes, including the exceptionally non-PC ‘gay’ costumes. The questionable joke is supposed to be the word play on 4G(ay) network and the Samsung Gay-laxy. (N.B. I didn’t intend those two photos to be the most prominent, but I haven’t worked out yet how to choose which photos are emphasised in the grid yet in WordPress, if indeed it is possible.) And if you believe it’s unacceptable to dress up as someone from another racial group or a stereotype of a country’s costume, then you won’t like the Chinese ‘You’ll never wok alone’ group or the Japanese origami group with the huge origami stork. They were handing out sheets of paper and asking the crowd to fold a stork (or at the very least a paper aeroplane) before they moved on. I wasn’t sure why this was connected to the theme until I realised that fout sounds very like vouwt (folds).

Another group deliberately misconstrued the word as foud (as oud means old), dressing up as old people with rollators (a sort of walking frame or zimmer frame with wheels). One float challenged us to find the mistakes in their muddled-up fairy tales; I only caught the wolf on the giant’s shoulders. I am assuming that some of the groups interpreted fout as vals. Were those orchestras playing off-key (vals) and is that fierce dog also vicious (vals)? And can you spot my ‘deliberate’ mistake in the photo mosaics below? I may have to go back and edit at some point, but now is not the time.

Finally, I’m going to add some photos that show off the fun and camaraderie of Carnaval, the hard work and creativity that goes into the costumes and floats. Some of these floats are spectacular, some are clever and some are just downright mystifying. Like the one with the Moulin Rouge (spectacular, or at least, large) with the legs which occasionally did the can can (but not when I took the photo). And the little blue caravan that says something about Cinderella (Assepoester) taking the wrong carriage out of the coach-house. I was wondering if was referring to the famous dress meme (is it blue and black or is it white and gold?), but as I say, I’m not at all sure. I rather liked the manure-spreading tank that had been converted into a vehicle with the sign ‘Is deze wagen niet om te gieren?‘. Gieren means both to spread liquid manure and to laugh uncontrollably, so the question is either/or ‘Can this car be used for spreading muck?’ or ‘Isn’t this car hilarious?’ I do like a good pun.

That’s all, folks! I hope you enjoyed the glimpse of carnival parades in the Netherlands. If you want to know more, I’ve written several other posts about Carnival: