When I hear “carnival” I immediately think of the Rio de Janeiro Brazilian carnival, the Notting Hill Carnival in London, or New Orleans Mardi Gras. The last thing I think of is Holland.
But it turns out Karnaval is a huge celebration here. It officially starts on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday (although in practice people begin partying on Friday or even Thursday) and culminates on Vastenavond, Shrove Tuesday. It doesn’t happen in Amsterdam, but rather in the southern Catholic regions of Noord Brabant and Limburg. The cities best known for carnival are Maastricht, Breda, Eindhoven, and ‘s-Hertogenbosch, but really every town has one big street party. There were even festivities in Utrecht yesterday.
According to my Dutch friends, the objective of these three days of carnival is to dress up in a ridiculous outfit or costume, drink your bodyweight in alcohol, dance in the streets, and otherwise do embarrassing things that would be socially unacceptable at any other time of the year.