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Public Holidays in the Netherlands


Carnival Parade in Oeteldonk

Carnival (Carnaval), a festival of colours, costumes, and exuberance, is also celebrated extensively in the Netherlands. Although Carnival originally is a Catholic festival marking the start of Lent, it has evolved into a widely celebrated folk festival in many parts of the Netherlands. The difference from Germany lies mainly in the regional distribution and expression of the festivities.

How is Carnival celebrated?

In the Netherlands, Carnival is particularly celebrated in the southern provinces, traditionally referred to as "below the rivers" (onder de rivieren). This geographical designation, referring to areas south of the major rivers Rhine and Maas, plays a significant role in the cultural identity of Carnival in the Netherlands. Unlike the northern provinces (boven de rivieren), where Carnival is less widespread, the southern provinces of Limburg and North Brabant have a deeply rooted Carnival tradition that matches the intensity of the famous Carnival strongholds in Germany, such as Cologne or Mainz. The celebrations officially begin on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday and end on Tuesday evening, with preparations and anticipation often starting weeks or even months in advance.

Carnival Parade in Helmond

Is Carnival called Carnaval, or not?

In the Netherlands, the word "Carnival" has various regional spellings and names that reflect not only the linguistic diversity of the country but also the cultural differences in the way the festival is celebrated. This diversity is particularly evident in the southern provinces, where Carnival is celebrated most intensely.

Carnaval – This is the Dutch spelling of Carnival and is used in most parts of the country, especially in the province of North Brabant. The festivities under this name are known for their colourful parades, extravagant costumes, and the joyful music that echoes through the streets of cities and villages.

Vastelaovend – This designation is primarily used in the province of Limburg and emphasises the traditional aspects of Carnival. The term "Vastelaovend" derives from "Fastenabend" (Eve of Fasting) and refers to the days before Lent filled with exuberant celebrations and traditional customs.

Vastenavond – Similar to "Vastelaovend", this term also refers to the time before Lent. "Vastenavond" is used in some areas of the Netherlands (e.g., Bergen op Zoom) and can be translated as "Eve of Fasting". This name is more traditional and highlights the original purpose of Carnival as the last celebration before the start of Lent.

The variety in the names for Carnival in the Netherlands, like in Germany, underscores the regional diversity and the significance of the festival as an expression of local identity and community. Each name carries its own history, tradition, and style of celebration, making Dutch Carnival a multifaceted and colourful festival.

Carnival Parade in Roermond

Differences in the Carnival Strongholds

Carnival in the Netherlands displays a colorful spectrum of traditions and customs in its various strongholds, making each city or region unique. The main difference between these Carnival strongholds lies in how traditions are maintained and celebrated, as well as in the specific customs and symbols that make each city or region unique. While some cities focus on music and dance, others emphasize the importance of family and community or the connection to local history and culture. This makes Carnival in the Netherlands a diverse and multifaceted festival, offering a wide range of experiences and celebrations.

Here are some of the most striking differences between the individual Carnival strongholds:

Maastricht (Mestreech)

  • Style and atmosphere: Maastricht is known for its elegant and musical Carnival style. The celebrations here place a strong emphasis on local songs and dances, as well as on magnificent costumes.
  • Features: A characteristic element is the "Zate Hermeniekes Concours," a competition among amateur brass bands that parade through the city.
  • Dress code: In Maastricht, attire during Carnival is particularly elegant and often historically inspired. Many participants wear detailed, handmade costumes that represent historical or cultural figures. The costumes are often elaborate and display the deep connection of the residents with their history and culture.
  • https://www.visitmaastricht.com/activities/carnival

Eindhoven (Lampegat)

  • Style and atmosphere: Eindhoven combines traditional elements with modern celebrations, incorporating technology and design, making the city a unique place for Carnival celebrations.
  • Features: Large parades and a diverse program of events that appeal to both families and younger visitors.
  • https://www.thisiseindhoven.com/en/events/carnival-lampegat-2024

Den Bosch ('s-Hertogenbosch, Oeteldonk)

  • Style and atmosphere: Den Bosch adopts the name "Oeteldonk" during Carnival and places a strong focus on tradition and community. The celebrations are familial and deeply rooted in local customs.
  • Features: Unique is the arrival of "Prins Carnaval" at the train station, who symbolically takes over power in the city, and the "Oeteldonkse" frog as the mascot. And: never call out "Alaaf"!
  • Dress code: The residents of Den Bosch, or Oeteldonkers, traditionally dress in a special farmer's costume, consisting of a farmer's jacket ("boerenkiel") and a red sash. They often wear a special Oeteldonk scarf and a cap with frog symbols, reflecting the nickname of the city "Oeteldonk" ("Frog Hill"). In Oeteldonk, it is customary that access to many pubs and venues during Carnival requires this special attire. Visitors without the traditional "boerenkiel" or the Oeteldonker red-white-yellow may be denied entry, which can be a barrier especially for tourists or new participants in the Carnival.
  • https://www.oeteldonk.org/

Tilburg (Kruikenstad)

  • Style and atmosphere: Tilburg, or "Kruikenstad," celebrates Carnival with a mix of traditional and contemporary elements, with city history and community feeling playing a large role.
  • Features: Characteristic are the "Kruiken" (clay pots), which play a role in the city's history and are symbolically used during Carnival.
  • https://www.kruikenstad.nl/

Breda (Kielegat)

  • Style and atmosphere: Breda is known for its lively street parties and large parades, which create a relaxed and joyful atmosphere.
  • Features: The "Prinsenontvangst," where the Carnival prince is officially received in the city, is a highlight of the celebrations.
  • Dress code: In Breda, attire during Carnival is often colorful and imaginative. There is no strict requirement for traditional costumes, allowing participants to unleash their creativity. However, wearing Carnival medals and badges, which can be collected at various events, is very popular.
  • https://web.kielegat.nl/

Bergen op Zoom (Krabbegat)

  • Style and atmosphere: In Bergen op Zoom, also known as Krabbegat, the Carnival is characterized by its humorous and satirical nature. The celebrations are deeply rooted in local traditions, with residents taking particular pride in their unique customs.
  • Features: A highlight is the annual motto under which the Carnival is held, as well as the "Vastenavend," the traditional name for Carnival here, which is celebrated with special rituals and performances.
  • Dress code: The traditional attire often consists of simple, yet symbolic accessories and colors that reflect local history and culture. Colorful scarves and special hats are often seen, complemented by homemade decorations.
  • https://www.stichtingvastenavend.nl/

Venlo (Jocus Riék)

  • Style and atmosphere: Venlo, celebrated as "Jocus Riék", combines tradition with openness in a vibrant Carnival celebration. The city shines with the colors of exuberant street parties and attracts visitors with its lively music scene.
  • Features: The Carnival officially starts with the "Boètegewoëne Boètezitting" on Carnival Saturday, a spectacular open-air concert that kicks off the festivities. Already on Friday, the streets fill with revelers responding to the invitation to festive frolic.
  • Dress code: In Venlo, there is creative freedom with costumes. Many choose red-yellow-blue outfits or accessories, the city colors, or let their imagination run wild with extravagant disguises. Special emphasis is placed on detail and originality.
  • Music: "Vastelaovend" in Venlo is musically characterized by a variety of genres – from traditional Carnival songs to modern beats. The German influence is palpable, and popular Carnival songs invite singing along.
  • https://www.venloverwoehnt.de/karneval-venlo/

Heerlen (Heële)

  • Style and atmosphere: Heerlen, or Heële in the local dialect, is known for its modern and artistic approach to Carnival. The city uses graffiti and street art to enrich the festivities.
  • Features: The "Big Parade" is a visual spectacle that showcases the artistic diversity of the city, with elaborately designed floats and costumes.
  • Dress code: Participants are encouraged to be creative, with a particular focus on original and homemade costumes that often carry an artistic or humorous message.

Roermond (Remunj)

  • Style and atmosphere: Roermond, or Remunj, celebrates Carnival with a mix of traditional and familial elements. The city places great emphasis on community and cohesion.
  • Features: The "Sjlajerparade", a competition of the best Carnival songs, is a central event that highlights the musical tradition of the city.
  • Dress code: Traditional costumes and the colors of the respective Carnival societies dominate, with families often appearing in coordinated outfits.
  • https://www.weareroermond.com/vastelaovend-in-remunj/

Helmond (Keiestad't, previously also known as Kattegat or Keiebijtersstad)

  • Style and atmosphere: In Helmond, also known as 't Kattegat during Carnival, there is a festive and family-friendly ambiance. The city celebrates with a variety of events that appeal to all age groups.
  • Features: The children's carnival and the large parade are highlights, emphasizing the inclusive and familial atmosphere of the city celebrations.
  • Dress code: While many participants choose colorful and imaginative costumes, there is a strong preference for homemade and individually designed disguises.

Weert (Wieërt, Roggestaekerstad)

  • Style and atmosphere: Weert celebrates Carnival with a strong focus on music and community. The city is known for its hospitable and warm atmosphere during the Carnival season.
  • Features: Unique in Weert is the "Boonte Aovendj", a colorful evening program full of music, dance, and skits that brings local talents and Carnival groups to the stage.
  • Dress code: Attire in Weert varies from traditional Carnival costumes to original, homemade outfits. Colorful accessories and group costumes that have a common theme or motto are especially popular.
  • https://www.metonsinweert.nl/en

Kerkrade (Kirchroa)

  • Style and atmosphere: Kerkrade, called Kirchroa in the local dialect, celebrates a Carnival that is deeply rooted in local culture and music tradition. The city is known for its brass music and choirs, which play a central role in the Carnival.
  • Features: The "Zoch", the Carnival parade in Kerkrade, is famous for its music groups and spectacular floats that depict stories and themes from the region. Another highlight is the traditional "Sjlajer" singing, where local Carnival songs are presented.
  • Dress code: In Kerkrade, participants often wear traditional costumes that incorporate elements of local history and culture. Many costumes are handmade and display a high level of detail, with historical and musical motifs being particularly popular.
  • Music: Music plays a prominent role in Kerkrade, giving the Carnival a very special atmosphere. The musical variety ranges from traditional brass music that resonates through the streets to modern interpretations of classic Carnival songs by local bands and DJs. The "Sjlajer", special Carnival songs that are newly composed each year and enthusiastically embraced by the residents, form the musical centerpiece of the festivities. These songs are often humorous and reflect current events in the city or the world in a satirical way.
  • https://www.beleefkerkrade.nl/vasteloavend-i-kirchroa/

Our tip: If you want to experience an unforgettable Carnival parade with children that is both magnificent and personal in contact with the individual groups, you should be in Kerkrade on Rose Monday. This parade is especially family-friendly and offers a special program that is equally exciting for both children and parents. Young and old visitors can look forward to catching caramels ("Karmelle") and other surprises generously distributed by the Carnival participants. Additionally, the influence of German Carnival music in Kerkrade is noticeable, which means that many well-known songs can be sung along. This cultural exchange and musical diversity make the Rose Monday parade in Kerkrade a particularly enriching experience for the whole family.

Why do Carnival strongholds have different names during Carnival?

A distinctive feature of Dutch Carnival is the tradition of transforming towns and villages into a kind of "Fool's Hall" by temporarily changing place names to reflect the inverted, exuberant world of Carnival. This practice underscores the intent to leave behind the everyday and dive into a world filled with humour, satire, and community.

During the Carnival period, many towns and villages in North Brabant traditionally adopt alternative names, a practice that reflects the playful and reversing spirit of Carnival. These name changes, often humorous or historically based, are a characteristic feature of the celebrations in this region. In contrast, in Limburg, where Carnival is also deeply rooted, this tradition of name changing is less common. Here, the focus is more on preserving traditional Carnival customs, including music, dance, and costumes, without changing the place names. These regional differences highlight the diversity of Carnival traditions in the Netherlands, with each region maintaining its own unique celebratory culture. In Limburg, the local name in the dialect is often used.

Here is a list of well-known Carnival strongholds in the Netherlands and their Carnival names:

  • Maastricht becomes "Mestreech"
  • Eindhoven transforms into "Lampegat"
  • Den Bosch ('s-Hertogenbosch) becomes "Oeteldonk"
  • Tilburg changes its name to "Kruikenstad"
  • Breda becomes "Kielegat"
  • Roosendaal is "Tullepetaonestad"
  • Roermond is known as "Remunj"
  • Venlo transforms into "Jocus Riék"
  • Weert becomes "Roggestaekerstad"
  • Kerkrade is known as "Kirchroa" during Carnival

A complete list is available on Wikipedia.

This tradition of renaming places during Carnival reflects the deep roots and cultural significance of the festival in the southern provinces of the Netherlands. It is a time when communities come together to transcend the boundaries of everyday life and create a world of exuberance, creativity, and collective expression.

Away from the Main Carnival Strongholds

Away from the well-known Carnival strongholds in the southern provinces of Limburg and North Brabant, Carnival is also celebrated in other parts of the Netherlands, albeit on a smaller scale and often with unique local features. Here are some examples of where Carnival is also part of the local culture:

Twente and Achterhoek (East Netherlands)

  • In the eastern regions of the Netherlands, particularly in areas such as Twente and Achterhoek, Carnival is also celebrated, though the festivities are not as extensive as in the South. Here, there are smaller parades, costume parties, and local events that bring the community together.

Groningen and Friesland (North Netherlands)

  • In the north of the Netherlands, in provinces such as Groningen and Friesland, there are Carnival activities. These are often more intimate and less traditional than those in the South, featuring parties and events in bars and community centers.

Randstad (West Netherlands)

  • In the densely populated Randstad, which includes cities such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, and Utrecht (Leemput), Carnival is not deeply embedded in the local culture, but there are still events and parties. These are often accessible to a broad audience, including international guests, and are characterized by a diversity of music and costumes.
    Tip: The Carnival parade of IJsselstein (Apestad)

Zeeuws-Vlaanderen (Southwest Netherlands)

  • In Zeeuws-Vlaanderen, close to the Belgian border, Carnival celebrations also take place, influenced by the traditions of both countries. Here, there are parades and events that involve the local community.

University Towns

  • In university towns across the Netherlands, student associations organize their own Carnival parties and events. These are less traditional and more targeted at the younger population.

These smaller celebrations reflect the versatility of Carnival in the Netherlands and show that the festival has taken root beyond its traditional centres. Even though the festivities in these areas may not have the same historical depth or scale as in Limburg or North Brabant, they offer an opportunity for people of all backgrounds to engage in the festival and enjoy the Carnival season in their own way. Those wanting to celebrate away from the strongholds might need to search well, or take the train to Oeteldonk or further south.

Carnival Parades and Sessions

The streets fill with parades organised by local Carnival clubs. These parades are distinguished by elaborately designed floats, imaginative costumes, and music groups that play traditional Carnival songs. Prince Carnival, who is elected anew each year, leads the parades and represents the spirit of Carnival.

An interesting aspect that can vary from region to region is the custom of throwing caramels ("Karmelle") or other sweets and small gifts into the crowd. While this is a fixed part of the Carnival parades in many places, not all towns and villages practice this tradition. In some areas, the focus is more on the musical performance, the creative costumes, and the general spirit of community, without throwing sweets.

In addition to public celebrations, there are numerous balls and sessions in halls and pubs where people sing, dance, and laugh. Carnival in the Netherlands is a time when hierarchies are turned upside down, and everyone, regardless of their social status, celebrates together.

Carnival in the Netherlands is a unique experience that attracts visitors from around the world. The mix of traditional customs, exuberant atmosphere, and the open and warm nature of the Dutch makes this festival an unforgettable experience. If you have the opportunity to experience this colourful spectacle for yourself, you should not miss it.

Carnival and its Music: A Time of Change and Debate

The Carnival season in the Netherlands is a vibrant festival full of tradition, colours, and music. While brass bands and "Dweilorkesten" used to set the musical tone, visitors to some towns and villages today also encounter more modern sounds such as house, techno, and après-ski music. This evolution has sparked passionate discussions within the Carnival community about whether these new music styles are overshadowing and possibly displacing the traditional sounds. The Dutch youth may enjoy the new styles, but they are so dominant in some places that they could push traditional music into the background.

In Tullepetaonestad (Roosendaal), for example, the musical selection in 2023 sparked heated debates, especially among die-hard Carnival fans who felt that too much après-ski and hardstyle was played. Similar discussions also occurred in Maastricht, where techno music on the Vrijthof caused dissatisfaction because, according to some opinions, it was inappropriately loud and not representative of the local culture.

This musical diversification reflects a broader debate about what Carnival should be: a traditional folk festival or an open festival that welcomes a wider range of music styles and visitors from across the country. Some cities like Den Bosch and Breda experience an influx of revellers from all corners of the country, underscoring the need to make the festival accessible to a broader audience, including the integration of more modern music styles.

Where is "Alaaf" not called, and what is the alternative?

In the Netherlands, "Alaaf" is mainly called in the Limburg region, especially around Kerkrade, where the influence of the Cologne Carnival is noticeable. This region shares many cultural and historical connections with adjacent Germany, which is also reflected in the Carnival traditions.

Outside of Limburg and particularly in the Carnival strongholds of North Brabant and other parts of the Netherlands, the call "Alaaf" is less common. Instead, Carnival participants often use other expressions or specific Carnival greetings characteristic of their region or city.

A common alternative to "Alaaf" in the Netherlands, especially in North Brabant, is the call "Oeteldonk, houdoe!" in 's-Hertogenbosch (Den Bosch) or simply a cheerful "Houdoe!", which means "Bye!" or "Take care!" in the local language, but is used as a greeting during Carnival. In Maastricht, you might hear "Mestreech Alaaf!" which is a local adaptation of the "Alaaf" call, expressing a connection with the city of Maastricht. Calling out "Alaaf" in Oeteldonk may earn you disapproving looks.

School Holidays

In the Netherlands, the planning of school holidays is organised regionally, with the spring break in the Southern region (Regio Zuid) often scheduled to coincide with the Carnival period. This is particularly the case in the provinces of Limburg and North Brabant, where Carnival is a deeply rooted tradition and celebrated with great enthusiasm. Aligning the holiday period with Carnival enables students and teachers to fully engage in the festivities without having to consider school commitments.

This special scheduling of school holidays underscores the cultural significance of Carnival in these regions. It allows the entire community, including the younger generation, to actively participate in the traditional celebrations. Incorporating school holidays into the Carnival period ensures that the vibrant culture and joy of Carnival can be experienced and passed on by all age groups, thereby strengthening cultural identity and community spirit in these areas.

Opening Hours

The opening hours of shops and public facilities may vary during Carnival. Many stores close earlier or are completely shut on the main festival days so that employees can also participate in the festivities.

When is carnival in the Netherlands?

Year Carnival Weekend
Carnival Weekend
2025 1st March 2025 4th March 2025
2026 14th February 2026 17th February 2026
2027 6th February 2027 9th February 2027
2028 26th February 2028 29th February 2028
2029 10th February 2029 13th February 2029
2030 2nd March 2030 5th March 2030
2031 22nd February 2031 25th February 2031