Fairs and Carnivals

An interesting Dutch word I learnt recently is kermis [ˈkɛr.mɪs], which means a carnival, fair, fairground, funfair or amusement park [source]. I remember it by linking it to Kermit the Frog, and thinking of him going to a fair.

Opening Leuven kermis 2010

It comes from the Middle Dutch kermisse, a contraction of kerkmis, from kerk (church) and mis (mass) [source].

Some related expressions include:

  • kermisklant = funfair worker, carnival worker, carny, funfair customer
  • kermistent = an attraction at a carnival or a fair
  • kermisattractie = fairground attraction, fairground ride sideshow attraction
  • kermiskraam = fairground booth/stall
  • kermisterrein = fairground, midway, carnival
  • het is kermis in de hel = the devil’s beating his wife (“it is a funfair in hell”) – said when a sunshower* occurs

*sunshower = a rain shower which occurs while the sun is shining

Kermis is related to the German word Kirmes, which in parts of western and central Germany means a fair, funfair or fairground, but originally referred to a solemn mass held annually to celebrate the anniversary of the consecration of a village church – such masses are now known as Kirchweihfesten (parish celebrations). In time the Kirmessen became major village festivals [source].

Kirmes

The English word kirmiss was borrowed from Germany and/or Dutch, and in parts of the USA apparently refers to an indoor entertainment and fair combined [source].

This word was also borrowed from Dutch into French as kermesse (fête), and from French into Italian as kermesse (social event, gathering, meeting or gala) [source].

The English word fair, as in a funfair or (travelling) carnival, comes from the Middle English feire, from the Old French foire (celebration), from the Latin fēriae (holy day, festival, holiday, vacation) [source].

The English word carnival comes from the French carnaval (carnival), from the Italian carnevale (carnival), possibly from the Latin carnem levāmen (“meat dismissal”) or from carnuālia (meat-based country feast) [source].

2 thoughts on “Fairs and Carnivals

  1. About the relationship with the church:
    Originally, a ‘kermis’ was an annual fair on the occasion of the consecration day of the parish church of a place. Every Dutch village (even small ones) had and often still has its own fair.
    In the village where I grew up, the fair is in mid-September. It usually takes four days.

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