The Netherlands have several peculiar traditions, but there is one in particular that shocks those who set foot in our country for the first time: Carnival. In only a couple of weeks from now, the streets will be filled with drunk people in ridiculous costumes once again. What better time for a quick lesson about the history of Carnival?
Originally, Carnival was the last opportunity to stuff yourself with food before the days of fasting began. In modern times, the fasting is often skipped altogether and Carnival is mostly used as an excuse for excessive alcohol consumption.
Tilburg, however, hasn’t always been able to party as hard as its surrounding cities. In 1857 Carnival was banned in Tilburg, because its extravagant festivities had interrupted the traditional 40 hours prayer. Such prayer is performed in a relay-form and was a more ecclesiastic pre-fasting tradition, whereas Carnival was seen as a pagan tradition.
“Carnival was seen as a time of sin”, pastor Van Noorwegen says. “People just did as they pleased, they drank loads of beer, ate too much and danced. It was seen as sinful, so worshipping Jesus and exhibiting the monstrance was a way to undo some of the damage.”
However, this ban didn’t stop citizens from dressing up and celebrating. “It was a kind of hidden carnival”, Guusje Verhagen, who celebrated Carnival secretly in the fifties, says. “Everything had to happen behind closed doors and we had to hide our costumes underneath a long coat and a hat, because it was forbidden!”
But the citizens of Tilburg became tired of having to hide their festivities. That’s why in the sixties, despite the municipality’s ban, Piet Papa and 33 other members of carnival’s association ‘De Bierpompen’ decided to organize a parade anyway. “We went to pick up the prince at the train station. We were assured that the police couldn’t do anything there, so that helped us. After that, we drove through the city with some decorated carriages until we reached the Piusplein. That’s where some of us were taken to the police station and we got 34 police reports, one for each member.”
Thankfully, municipality eventually gave in. Until this day, Carnival is celebrated extensively in Tilburg, with one of the best visited parades in the Netherlands. This brings joy to many, but not all, because the pastor has had to end the tradition of the 40 hours prayer. “The bars are filled and the church is empty. That’s the way it is.”
Pictures were provided by the Regional Archives of Tilburg. Quotes are from the Dutch Andere Tijden documentary broadcasted on February 11th 21:25 on NPO2.
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