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Alaaf ! Helau ! Fahr’m Dar ! Rhenish Carnival in East Belgium

Rhenish Carnival is all about leaving winter behind you and enjoying life again with fun and dancing before Lent. The typical Rhenish Carnival is also to be found in the German-speaking municipalities of East Belgium, complete with a carnival prince, processions and fancy-dress comedy events.

Text: Ostbelgien.eu Photo‘s: ostbelgien.eu

The carnival committees are often influenced by the traditions of the Rhenish Carnival in the Walloon communities – with the exception of Malmedy where they celebrate “Cwarmê” – although these traditions are also combined with their own customs.

At Kelmis, for instance, a pig (made of paper, rest assured) is burnt after the parade - this is known as the "Küschespektakel" (pig show). In Sankt Vith, the festivities are told by three characters: an old man tells anecdotes about events of the past year, the old woman comments on them, and the clown jokes around. Here, they don't shout "Alaaf" during the parade, but "Fahr'm Dar", while in other places they shout "Helau", as in Düsseldorf. However it is celebrated, and whatever exclamations are used, Carnival is a celebration for young and old alike.

Who is being celebrated?

The central figure in the Rhenish Carnival is the carnival prince. He is officially introduced to the “people” at a so-called prince proclamation several weeks before carnival. From that time on he is the prince of his home town or village.

Where do the celebrations take place?

The villages of Kelmis, Raeren and Eupen in the northern part as well as Sankt Vith & Deidenberg in the southern part of the German-speaking community are regarded as the carnival strongholds in East Belgium. A host of fancy-dress balls, processions and festivals take place here during the carnival period from Fat Thursday to Ash Wednesday.

Places such as Oudler, Reuland, Deidenberg, Amel, Büllingen, Bütgenbach and Manderfeld in the south or Hergenrath, Kettenis and Lontzen in the north also offer an extensive programme of exciting events during this period.

When do people celebrate?

In the carnival strongholds, the “silly season” starts on 11 November. The number ELEVEN symbolises the “carnival revellers” since it is above the number 10 and thus a closed set, and before the sacred number 12. As with the secrets of the Tarot card games, it visualises the victory of wisdom over insanity. To round off this symbolism, the carnival organisation committee is composed of eleven members, who form the “Council of Eleven” and lay down the body of rules in eleven points.

Carnival is a celebration for young and old.

  • Fat Thursday / Old Women’s Carnival Thursday
    From 11.11 a.m., the women take over their home town. Even mayors and other public figures must yield to them. Dressed in costumes and in a cheerful mood, the women make their way through their towns and villages, dancing, singing, having fun and turning men’s heads.
  • Carnival Sunday
    This is the highlight of the “silly season” in many places. Carnival processions take place in a lot of villages. Decorated floats, groups of people on foot and music groups accompany the carnival prince and his entourage through the village before getting together to celebrate afterwards.
  • Rose Monday
    In some East Belgian towns and villages Rose Monday is decidedly the highlight of the festive period. It gets its name from the Cologne Carnival and the customs of the Pope who consecrated a golden rose on the Monday before Lent in the Middle Ages.
  • Violet Tuesday (Pancake Day)
    Influenced by the Catholic Church, this day used to be called “Confession Tuesday”, being the last day before the beginning of the fasting period. Nowadays, Violet Tuesday is used rather more for celebrations and to announce the end of the “silly season” at about midnight.
  • Ash Wednesday
    The end of carnival and the start of the 40-day fasting period.

More information

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