SCHINNEN, The Netherlands -- One of the most important local events in the Dutch Southern Provinces is Carnaval. During the three-day event, people wear costumes and masks as they eat, drink and enjoy the festivities. This year, Carnaval is celebrated Feb. 11 to 13.

Carnaval is a big celebration, which ends on Ash Wednesday when Lenten, or Lent, starts. Although it was originally believed that Carnaval is a religious festival, it is not. Before Christ was born, February was considered the last month of the year. People began the new year by celebrating the fact that the sun had cast away the dark winter.

The chronicles of Babylon speak of the sacrificial death of the king every year during their new year's celebrations. The king had to die for his people so they could start the new year without sins. To prevent kinghood from becoming a one-year affair, it was decided to have a temporary king during these days. The temporary king would be either a terminally-ill person or a criminal condemned to death. During the festivities, these men lived like kings.

The Christian Church learned that integrating these rituals into the church was a way of dealing with heathen beliefs. People celebrated but did penance afterwards. Ash Wednesday became the official beginning of a 40-day long Lent season before Easter. This was also believed to be an explanation for the event's name. During Lent, people did penance by fasting. The Latin term "Carne Vale" meant farewell to meat/flesh. During the Reformation, sobriety was preached so these excessive celebrations were considered sinful. As a result, Carnaval ceased to exist.

Carnaval, as it is today, originated from the German Rhineland, with its cradle in Cologne. This city, occupied by Napoleon's Army and annexed later by Prussia, had many inhabitants who did not forget Cologne's glorious past when emperors visited. They were welcomed with great pomp and circumstance and entered the city in a parade while the citizens showered them with flowers. The emperors gave money to those cheering. In 1823, the very first Carnaval/Fashing parade was organized. The parade had to be equal to the wealthy and glorious entries of the Habsburg emperors in the old days.

A lot of traditions are still the same. Prince Carnaval, for instance, still wears a Renaissance costume and is accompanied by Soldiers in 17th century uniforms. At the time of the first parade, these uniforms were really meant as a spoof on the Prussians. Little by little, all kinds of elements were added. Carnaval associations were established and medals were presented to special citizens and event participants. This also started as persiflage on the Prussians' behavior but grew out to be a tradition.

Carnaval has spread all over the Rhineland and the South of the Netherlands. Nowadays, almost every village has its own Carnaval association while the larger cities have even more than one. The Carnaval association consists of a "Raad van Elf" (Council of Eleven) presided by the president or lord, who is responsible for the activities during the Carnaval season. They choose a prince, organize and escort the parade. They also visit senior living homes, schools and other associations to give out medals.

The Carnaval festivities typically begin with the mayor handing over the town keys to the prince, making him the ruler of the city or village for the duration of Carnaval.

Many clubs, associations and schools have their own prince and Carnaval fest. The Schinnen Community is no exception. By tradition, these fests are ruled over by a prince and princess and visited by local authorities and Carnaval associations. The fest at Schinnen will be held Feb. 9 starting at 2:11 p.m. in the Pin Point Café and Bowling Center at U.S. Army Garrison Benelux in Schinnen. The fest will begin with the proclamation of Prince and Princess Carnaval for 2018. For newcomers to the area, this is a perfect opportunity to experience Carnaval.

The highlight of Carnaval is the parade. Participants often work year round to build floats and create costumes. Every group tries their best to have the most original designs. After the parade, the festivities start with dancing and singing in the streets and pubs. Many shops will be closed Feb. 12 and 13. Special events, such as Carnaval Band contests, will take place during those days. On Tuesday at midnight, Carnaval officially ends.

So dress up, put on your mask and celebrate the festivities!