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The Maastricht Diplomat

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Warming up our hearts against the darkness of winter – the fifth season is arriving!

It’s starting again – the phenomenon that is known differently all around the world but has one big name in common: The fifth season or even more simple carnival. Known for its colourful street celebrations and parades with folklore music and people dressed in wacky costumes, it brings happiness and laughter back to the people within a world of bad news, increasing political tensions and environmental conflicts. Already in the past, carnival was a ritual to drive out the dark and cold winter spirits, to turn the head towards the light and to welcome the summer. Traditionally, carnival means celebrating the time before the forty days of Lent until Easter. For others, carnival symbolizes a reversal of social roles and a suspension of social norms.

As you might have realized already, carnival is also of high value in Maastricht, since several institutions and places are closed. During these days, the town will shine in its traditional carnival colours: red, yellow and green. People are dressed in so called pekskes and special bands, called Zate Hermeniekes will walk through the town and fill the air with the merry music of carnival. The official opening ceremony will take place on Sunday at 12:11pm (rather than the traditional 11:11 am), at Vrijthof, where eleven cannon shots herald the fifth season. Afterwards everyone is welcome to the Groeten Optoch (big parade). Carnival will end on Ash Wednesday and introduce the start of Lent.

As citizen of Maastricht it is important to be familiar with the terminology of the typical limburgish carnival:

De elfde-van-de-elfde (th eleventh of the eleventh)

The 11th of November and the official start of the carnival season.

Prins Carnaval (Prince Carnival)

The Carnival Prince of Maastricht, who is secretly selected every year and who leads the troops of the ‘fools’.

Sleuteloverdracht (The key’s presentation)

The major of Maastricht hands the key to the town hall to Prince Carnival on Saturday before carnival. This shall symbolize handing over the rule to the ‘fools’ during the following days.

Zate Hermeniekes (literally tipsy brass bands)

Brass bands who walk through the streets playing music.

The Boonte Störrem (Carnival parade)

The parade, organised by Maastricht’s carnival association De Tempeleers, that takes place on Sunday.


Alaaf is the traditional carnival greeting.

But carnival is not only known in Maastricht. Beside the very popular carnival strongholds like Cologne, Venice and Rio de Janeiro, the fifth season is also celebrated in other parts of the world, at some places with interesting traditions.

In Italy, more concrete in the town of Ivrea, people commemorate the civil war between the Napoleonic Troops and the citizen in the 12th century by organizing a battle of the oranges. Yes, you got it right! This is a food fight, in which people are divided into teams, representing the townsfolk and the Napoleonic Troops, also riding horses. 500,000 kilos of oranges are used as ‘ammunition’ against the ‘enemies’ and portray a symbol of the right of self-rule. The Battle of the Oranges is the highlight in Ivrea during carnival and stands for the symbolic representation of Ivrea’s liberation from tyranny and oppression. Beside being one of the most unique carnival events of the world, Ivrea carnival also is one of the oldest carnivals worldwide.

Another uncommon carnival festival is the Winter Carnival in Quebec, Canada. With over one million people visiting this event every year, this carnival is one of the biggest in the world. In contrast to the common time frame of three days, this carnival runs over 17 days from the end of January till mid-February. Its tradition does not only sound the bell for the beginning of Lent, but also symbolizes the residents’ decision in the past to warm their hearts with laughter and joy during the dark time of a cold and harsh winter. Whereas Maastricht has Prince Carnival, Quebec’s hero during carnival is Bonhomme, a giant white snowman, wearing a sash and hat, both in red. It is he who receives the town’s key to reign over the city. For a lot of children, Bonhomme is even more popular than Santa Claus. Next to Bonhomme, several sportive activities heat up the cold bodies. Annually an ice-canoe race takes place on St. Lawrence River, in which multiple canoes, five rowers each, not only fight against each other but also against a lake full of frozen chunks of ice. Another example is the Toboggan Ice Slice, either fun or nightmare: On slides (toboggan) that reach up to 70 km/hour, you can slide downhill towards the luxury hotel Château Frontenac in the centre of Quebec City.

Carnival definitively let us forget for some days about the misery in the world and that’s maybe also what it is supposed to do. However, we should still be aware that for example people in Syria are forced to leave their homes and lives behind due to non-ending tensions between the interest of two powers. It is easy for us to escape of our daily life, slipping into colourful costumes and forget about the doubts and problems we face, but these people do not have such a privilege. We do not need to forego, but we also should not forget.


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