Happy faces all around (family and friends)

How one story changed an entire city

Scrumpy Dad
3 min readFeb 16, 2024

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I had a great time with my family and friends earlier this week. We celebrated Carnaval in the city of ‘s-Hertogenbosch (Netherlands), renamed Oeteldonk for the occasion.

Did you know that the origin of Carnaval-like celebrations goes way back to ancient European festivals by the Greeks and Romans? It was a reversal ritual where social roles were reversed and norms were suspended, a rite of passage from darkness to light, from winter to summer.

Eventually, when the Christian Church tried to ban this ancient folk culture, people in ‘s-Hertogenbosch got creative. In 1882, they self-organized and devised a new story to refine their version of Carnaval. Every year, the city of ‘s-Hertogenbosch would transform into the village of Oeteldonk, referencing the city’s foundation on sandbanks in the local marshlands. Social ranks and hierarchy would cease to exist for three full days, and everybody would be equal as peasants. Oeteldonk has its own tricolore (red, white, and yellow) and even an anthem in dialect. And so the story of Oeteldonk was born.

Oeteldonk traditions

You need some key figures and new rituals for a successful cultural transformation. Here are some typical Oeteldonk traditions that might amuse you:

  • During Carnaval, there is a new mayor in town called Peer vaan den Muggenheuvel tot den Bobberd. Muggenheuvel translates to mosquito hill, another reference to the marshlands. Peer acts as the host to the visiting Prince.
  • In many other cities, Prince Carnaval is elected every year. In Oeteldonk, we have Prince Amadeiro, who is appointed for life and only visits for three days. He arrives by train on Sunday morning at 11:11 and is welcomed by Peer. That’s the official start of the celebrations. There is even an official stepping stone on platform 1, where the Prince will get off the train and touch Oeteldonk soil.
  • Knillis is the symbolic figure representing all peasants. The Prince reveals his statue on the Market place on Sunday afternoon. Knillis is wearing the traditional outfit for all people of Oeteldonk: a blue smock, white mittens, and a farmer’s hat. Knillis is symbolically buried on Tuesday at 23:55, the official end of Carnaval.
  • When you visit Oeteldonk, you will stand out if you think it’s a costume party like in many other places. It’s best to wear at least an Oeteldonk shawl and matching gloves to demonstrate that you appreciate the story. Bonus points if you wear an outfit like Knillis or a jacket, as in the picture. You are not supposed to wash your outfit after Carnaval, by the way…..
  • There are more and more opportunities for people to get involved in the design of celebrations. There are competitions to elect the Carnaval song of the year, the new slogan for next year, and the design of the new patch to be stitched on your outfit.
  • …and there is much, much more….

Personal experience

My wife and stepdaughter are from down south and are experienced Carnaval-goers. I celebrated Carnaval for the first time in 2019 and was hooked immediately, dropping my prejudice. The atmosphere is friendly, music is everywhere, and people are having a good time together. Thanks to the standard outfit, you feel a natural bond with the people around you. All generations are represented, from families with toddlers up to elderly couples. Attending some official ceremonies to immerse yourself in the Oeteldonk tradition is also quite fun.

When my kids joined a year later, they were enthusiastic too. And now they are bringing along their friends. We had much fun chatting, singing, and dancing on the streets. The occasional short rain shower couldn’t stop us.

Although we only moved to ‘s-Hertogenbosch in 2019, I love this town and its rich culture, including this Oeteldonk Carnaval tradition. It’s amazing how a story can transform a community, keep evolving, and appeal to recent newcomers like me.

Take care and till next time!

Kind regards,

Herman / Scrumpy Dad

I help people find their purpose and stay loyal to their goals and values so they can create more happiness in their lives.

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Scrumpy Dad

Scrum Master & Agile Coach, passionate about personal development, applying work practices at home to build a happy family life. linkedin.com/in/hjameeuwsen