Alaaf! The language of Dutch Carnival

door Regina Coeli
Seven weeks before Easter Sunday, Carnival starts in a large part of the Netherlands. Especially in the provinces of Noord-Brabant and Limburg, life is dominated by this feast for a few days, but Carnival is also celebrated in some places in the eastern part of the country. Carnival means ‘carne vale’: farewell meat. Carnival marks the beginning of a fasting period, although few Carnival-goers still honour that tradition...
If you live or work in an area where Carnival is celebrated, it helps to be a bit familiar with the customs and language around this holiday. Let’s have a look at a few of them.

What happens during Carnival?

  • Prince Carnival is the boss of the town or village during Carnival. On Saturday, he receives the key to the city or village from the mayor.
  • There are parades with floats and often address current themes or are timelessly funny.
  • People dress up and go to the city. In some places, it is common to dress as a character from head to toe, while in other places like Den Bosch, you will fit in best with a jacket and scarf in the local Carnival colours.
  • Carnival music is played everywhere and people follow each other around in conga lines.
  • Tuesday is the last day of Carnival. The day after that is Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of the fasting period.

Dialect and specific Carnival language

A lot of dialect is spoken during Carnival. Expats who live and work in North Brabant, know that the standard Dutch you learn is not enough to keep up during Carnival. Having a few words from Brabant in your repertoire will make it easier to join in with the locals, also because you need fewer words in the dialect. (read more about 'Brabants')
Every place that celebrates Carnival takes on a different name during the celebration. Regina Coeli is not in Vught during Carnival, but in Dommelbaorzedurp. So for a few days we are no longer 'the nuns of Vught', but the ‘nunnekes of Dommelbaorzedurp’.
There are also words that are used almost throughout the carnival area.
Alaaf a Carnival greeting used in a lot of places, although in some places saying alaaf is just 'not done'
Dweilen the tour of brass bands along all kinds of pubs
Tonpraten people dressed up as personages talking about topical and often local themes. There are even tonpraten championships (in Brabant: tonproaten)
Polonaise dancing in a congo line
Hossen dancing and jumping with arms slung over each other’s shoulders

Dutch carnival music

If you want to get in the Carnival spirit and work on your Dutch, listen to these Carnival golden oldies!

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