For many people not native to ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Oeteldonk and Carnival are a magical time of year. Magical, but mostly confusing. To make sense of the play of carnival, we’ve answered some of the frequently asked questions! Oeteldonkers take pride in their strict moral and cultural code, straying from this code might result in being shunned. Everything is, of course, slightly ironic.
Q: I know a word in the local dialect! Oetel means frog, right?
A: No. The frog was chosen as a symbol of Den Bosch during
carnival, because the swamps surrounding the city are filled with them and because frogs, like catholics in medieavel times, fasted during the winter. Frogs go into hibernation, catholics fast between Ash Wednesday and Easter. The word Oetel might refer to bishop Godschalk who wanted to ban carnival, he was born in a village called Den Dungen. A common last name in Den Dungen is Van den Oetelaar, Oetel is a playful reference to the monseigneur.
Q: I have the urge to say Alaaf a lot. What should I do?
A: Go to Maastricht, where they use that foul language.
Q: I can’t choose between dressing up as Batman or a slutty nun, what should I do?
A: Neither. Dressing up as something silly, like a superhero or a clergy member, isn’t part of the culture of Oeteldonk. If you want people to know you’re not a local, that’s the way to go. In order to fully submerge yourself in this weird tradition, dressing up properly is mandatory. The basis of a succesful outfit is a blue smock-frock, or called a boerenkiel. You’ll only need one frock in your entire life-time (and you’re only supposed to air it out, washing it is forbidden), because it’ll serve as the canvas for a multitude of sewing patches. Every
year since 1964, the Oeteldonkse Club van 1882 issues an emblem related to the motto of that year. A real Bosschenaars frock is covered in patches. Patches are the carnivalesk equivalent of military decorations: the more you have, the more respect you’ll get. You’ll also need a rend handkerchief, tied around your neck. Instead of a knot, you’ll have to tie the handkerchief with a matchbox. To keep warm in the streets, get a red-white-yellow scarf and white mittens (kept together by a white string). Men can wear a flat cap. Dressing up as a superhero, a mermaid, a slutty nun or anything in that variety is strictly VERBOTEN. Go to Maastricht, if that’s your thing.
Q: I don’t have a scarf with the colours of Oeteldonk, but I do have an orange-green one from Kruikenstad (Tilburg). Is that OK too?
A: Only if you want to be chased out of the village by an angry mob carrying pitchforks and burning torches.
Q: What’s the obsession with the number 11?
A: Excellent question. 11 is seen as the number of lunatics. Positioned between 10 and 12, both holy numbers as there are 10 commanments, 10 plagues, Jacob had 12 sons and Jesus 12 disciples, 11 means absolutely nothing. Mathematically, it’s a prime number, it’s a master number, but it has no biblical meaning. In the Netherlands, it represents lunacy, and so does carnival. On the 11th of the 11th (11 november) at 11:11, carnival officially starts.
Q: Is carnival all about getting wasted and misbehaving?
A: Hell no! Ironically, although drinking beer is intrinsically linked to carnival, it’s not the main objective. The main objective of this play is that people can unwind, make friends, and pretend to be something they’re not. Equality and gezelligheid are the main objective. That getting drunk helps achieving those goals, is just coincidental. Many Oeteldonkers get pissed off when they see people from above the rivers in Oeteldonk, dressed inappropriately and getting hammered. Most people consider it to be insulting.
Q: I’ve lost my friends. Now what?
A: Lost your friends in acrowd of drunk people? Don’t worry! Carnival is the opportune moment to make new friends! Everyone is equal, happy and cheerful. Just find a group of newly made friends, and enjoy the rest of the night. You could also suggest a meet-up spot in case you’ve lost each other, such as Soete Lieve Gerritje, or the statue of Jeroen Bosch.
Q: How much should I drink?
On average, Bosschenaren drink over 10 beers a night during Carnival. Why not honour
this tradition? If beer is not your poison of choice, you can always go for a Bossche Bitch, a limoncello shooter. If drinking is not your thing, you can eat an Oetelbol, a Bossche Bol filled with Boswandeling, a cream liqueur with coconut and pineapple. The Oetelbol is, however, obviously a violation of the strict moral code surrounding Bossche Bollen. Obviously, you should drink some water in between, because ten beers is not for the faint of heart, or stomach.
Q: Should I fast from Ash Wednesday on?
A: Nah. If you’ve been drinking as much as most Bosschenaren have, it’s better to eat something.
Q: How catholic is this celebration?
A: Not very catholic at all. Only 25% of the country identify as catholic, most of them live in the south of the Netherlands. Of those 25%, only 3% go to church on a regular basis. Lots of kids still do their Holy Communion, because traditionally, grandma and grandpa will give them a bike. Carnival doesn’t really have anything to do with catholicism anymore. You don’t have to be catholic, to be allowed to misbehave during carnival.
Q: People are crying at the funeral of farmer Knilles. They know he’ll be brought back to life next year, right?
A: They do. But for many people, carnival is the highlight of their year. Some people in Oeteldonk never go on vacation, but save up to spend all their money during these few magical days. For them, it’s like going home after a 6 month backpacking spree in Southeast Asia. It’s only polite to cry with them.
Q: Who’s paying for all this?
A: The Oeteldonkse Club van 1882 is sponsored by life-long fans of Oeteldonk; many people in Den Bosch sponsor these festivities. Bars and shops can also sponsor, and for their patronage, they are rewarded a banner to show their good will. There are four types of banners: diamond, gold, silver and bronze, depending on how much a shop has donated to Oeteldonk. They might be from the south, but they’re still Dutch when it comes to money.
Q: I hear people who are obviously not from Oeteldonk, singing about a horse in the corridor. What’s that all about?
A: It’s simple. There is no horse in the corridor. There has never been a horse in the corridor and there will never be a horse in the corridor. This is what happens when people from above the rivers invade Oeteldonk during carnival: the only thing they know about carnival, is what they see on tv. They think carnival is the same in every village in the south. In some villages in Limburg, it’s common to sing those ugly songs people call carnavalskrakers (carnival hits). A Dutch comedian called André van Duin is the evil mastermind behind a song about a horse in someones corridor, curse the day he made it up. These songs are, like any other tradition from Limburg, strictly prohibited. Please keep horses away from corridors at all cost. You can find the song here, just to get it out of your system.
Q: It’s so cold outside. Can’t I just stay in and celebrate quietly?
A: No. One of the most important part or carnival is the street celebration. On carnival monday, you’ll be able to witness one of the most impressive things about carnival in Oeteldonk: the float parade. Every year, hundreds of volunteers work on creative, unique and quirky floats. It’s best to go outside (preferably with a beer) and enjoy these unique pieces of art. In 2018, the parade takes place on the 12th of february. It starts at 12:33.
Now that we’ve answered all your questions: good luck surviving this beautiful enigma of southern culture. The best advice we can give you is: enjoy yourself, don’t think too much and keep in mind: if the people from Den Bosch don’t take themselves too seriously, neither should you.