Thursday, February 23, 2012

Come One, Come All to the Circus of Carnaval!

Vibrant colors, extravagant costumes, marching bands and endless parades and pagentry are common not only in a circus, but also during Carnaval. For this reason, we decided to make this year's Carnaval circus-themed, when thinking about our costumes. It's hard to believe that this is our 6th season of Carnaval/Fasching, and yet we still do not fully understand all the inside jokes, traditions and nuances surrounding this wacky festival. For many Limburgers, it is the most important and special time of year as months of work go into the costumes, parades and party-planning revolving around this holiday leading up to Ash Wednesday. 

Marching Band in the Sittard Markt

We began Carnaval weekend by attending a village parade in Germany with friends Friday night. We had a spectacular time watching the mostly teenage-run floats, pulled by tractors, roll through the village, each with a different theme. Some of our friends took part in the circus-themed extravaganza and came dressed as various animals (lions, elephants, tigers), which allowed my costume to be more authentic as I was a lion tamer/ring mistress. 

A Whip-less Lion Tamer

Jon had aspirations to be a circus stuntman and saw this as an excuse to finally buy an Evel Knievel costume. He enjoyed performing "stunts" throughout the weekend. 

Jon, I mean Evel, and his co-worker, Arnie

On Sunday, we gathered a large group of friends together to take part in Sittard's Grote Optocht (large parade). We had so much fun with our group last year, and we wanted to re-create this day with even more people. 

Jeff as the Ring Master - quite a job with this circus crew!

Group of Circus Ladies 

In addition to friends, we also had Neil, Emily, Sybil, Shannon and Cassie come up from Ramstein for the weekend to experience Carnaval. They managed to pull costumes together in a day and looked fantastic as an organ-grinder, dancing monkey, fortune-teller, lion and tiger. We feel so blessed to have them close by and to be able to share these special and unique experiences with over the next year.

The Clough Family Circus

The Lion Tamer with Shannon and Cassie

This was an especially unique Carnaval for Jon as he was asked by our neighbors to be in the parade with their group. They urgently needed an additional person at the last minute, as someone in their group got sick. He was so honored to be asked to be a part of this highly selective event and jumped at the opportunity. Although we weren't able to hang out with him during the parade-viewing, his missed presence was worth it when we finally saw him in the parade line-up, leading his group with the enthusiasm only Jon can muster. 

Jon and the 'Marotte Sirk' group, with three monkeys

Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks Jon's smile is fantastically contagious, because he was one of 12 photos featured on the online newspaper the next day. 

Photo featured in the online Limburgs Dagblad

 During the three hours of parade-viewing, we saw sunny weather turn cloudy, start snowing, turn to rain and eventually stop and get cloudy again. It was the most bizarre afternoon, but it separated the hard core Carnaval-goers from the fair-weather Carnaval-goers.


 Not long after Jon's group passed by, we moved our party posse from our street-viewing location to the market square where the parade ended. Eventually, we met up with Jon and visited our favorite (and packed) local bar before calling it a day and heading back to the house. Here, the party continued on with burgers, snacks and dancing before the circus finally disbanded.

On Monday, we woke to gorgeous sunny skies and spent most of the day outside with the girls. That afternoon we threw on silly hats to view our neighborhood parade that goes right in front of our house. It's not much of a parade, consisting of only about 10 cars/floats, but there was a band and candy, so the girls seemed happy. 

It was yet another, fantastic Carnaval season and it's hard to believe that next year will be our last. I'm not sure how we'll top the Carnaval Circus, but I have no doubt we'll try!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Svenskt Bröllop Part II: Richard Getting Married

Within five months, Jon and I have been fortunate enough to attend not one, but two weddings in Sweden of dear friends I met while working at Baylor. Since 2005, we have had several reunions throughout Europe and we were so honored to be invited to Maria's wedding in September and Richard's wedding in January. What are the chances that these two friends from the same semester at Baylor would be getting married within one year?! The weekend after I returned from my month-long visit to Texas, we trekked to the winter wonderland of Sweden in January. Though I had visited several times before in summer and fall, this was my first winter visit. A beautiful snow-white ground cover, frozen lakes with ice skaters, and beautiful traditional wooden houses in the white haze of snowfall presented an idyllic picture of Sweden in winter. 

Outside the church where the wedding took place

Our first night was spent in Stockholm with the newly married Maria and Jaokob. We had a fantastic evening out on the town complete with a delicious dinner, karaoke and bar-hopping. Stockholm is truly a remarkable city and I'm so fortunate we are able to experience it with a local perspective. The following day, we trekked to the suburbs of the city to stay at Maria's dad's house, near the wedding location. After dropping our bags, we made our way to a beautiful country church built in the 1200s. Richard and Sofie's wedding only had 40 guests, and we were so very honored to be included in their guest list.

The wedding church
The newly-wedded couple, Richard and Sofie

It was such a beautiful setting for a wedding and after the short ceremony, we made our way to the reception where we enjoyed a champagne reception, fantastic dinner, coffee and dessert and later dancing. The Swedes sure know how to do it up right! One aspect of the Swedish wedding tradition I absolutely adore is the dinner program at each person's seat, which provides commentary about each guest. As you can imagine, it takes a great deal of time to write a short paragraph about each guest, but the effort is worth it when the guests can learn a little bit more about each other and it is a great conversation starter. Another wonderful tradition is that couples do not sit next to one another, in order to encourage conversation with other dinner guests. We had so much fun meeting all the other Swedes there and once again, being the only Americans (or foreigners for that matter). These are experiences we will definitely never forget!

Jon, Richard and Jakob

The Texas Crew: Jakob, Maria, Richard and the Cloughs

Just like Maria and Jakob's wedding, Richard also included a Texas element as an homage to his time there. He had arranged to import Lone Star Beer and had several Texas references in his dinner program. Our wedding gifts to Richard were Texas-themed and even included a Texas passport so he could re-enter the Lone Star State more easily. 

A Texas Cheers

The next morning, Maria's dad and stepmom took us out to a lovely Sunday brunch at a neighborhood restaurant along the archipelago. Pictures cannot capture the beauty of the muddled sun in its last effort to produce rays before the snowfall started. The brunch was absolutely superb, but the company was the highlight of the day. Maria's family is so incredibly kind and I was so glad for the opportunity to spend more time with them and get to know them better. Maria and I have always had a special bond and just as it was so meaningful for her to spend time with my family in Texas, I was so happy to be able to spend time with hers. 

A Sunday brunch view

The Lilliestierna Crew

Post-brunch walk home in the snow

On our way to the airport that afternoon, we managed to do some sight-seeing at royal grounds where we saw the palace for foreign visitors and a beautiful church. It was a perfect Sunday afternoon with children sledding down hillsides, people walking and skiing through the countryside, and me spending time with my Swedish "family." I feel so blessed to have these incredible friendships with both Maria and Richard. What I thought would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, has somehow happened twice and I am elated to have witnessed the union of not only one Swedish couple, but two. Until my next visit.......