“Carnevale” in Venice, “Mardi Gras” in New Orleans, “Fastnet” in Waldkirch and other communities in the Black Forest. All are ways of busting loose during the week before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent and the fasting practices traditionally observed by many cultures during the forty days preceding Easter. From the internet:
Carnival in Germany takes many forms. In the Swabian towns and cities of the southwest, it is known as “Fasnet“, or sometimes “Fastnacht”, a custom dating back over 400 years, with its origins rooted in ancient rites for the banishing of winter. Different in each community, often they involve costumed jesters, wooden masks, foxes tails, bells, whips, water and soot. Together with raising a clamour, these measures once provided protection against the demons which were a particular threat during the transitional period between winter and spring. Processions are a highlight of carnival, with drums and bells played by participants dressed as witches, goblins, and other fantastic creatures.
Music, parades, costumes enact the pagan rituals to bring forth the growing energies of the sun. Oh yes, and drinking…to keep warm, to bring on the festive spirit, and both long ago and even now, to loosen inhibitions to allow for getting together and “diluting the gene pool.” Schools and shops are closed on and off, and from morning to night I see people in full costume walking to the next gathering. Through closed windows I hear the brass and drum bands playing the next gig.
Since returning “home” from Venice last Wednesday, I’ve participated in three events:
On Thursday, Waldkirch’s “schmutziger Dunstig” (dirty Thursday), and its ”Hemdklunger” parade where everyone wears white nightshirts and bed caps, coloured stockings and red scarves around their necks.
We skipped Friday’s events and instead prepared for Saturday night’s “Hexensabbat” – witch’s Sabbath – the huge parade in the “marktplatz” where dressed as witches with carved masks, the key players make, cavort and jump in the fire to burn away winter. Everyone else dresses in his most outrageous costume, often in groups with a theme.
Sunday I took the train a short distance to Elzach where they celebrate their two hundred and fifty year version of this torchlight procession, “Fackelumzug.” Close to a thousand men dressed in red-fringed suits with huge shell covered woven straw headpieces and carved masks, carried burning torches throughout the town. While the bands played the traditional melody and we all hummed and sang, these witches and wild animals danced around the huge caldron and threw in their waxy torches to create a huge fire that brightened the pitch-black starry sky and warmed the spectators.
Today is Shrove Tuesday, the culminating celebration. In my hometown we called it “Pancake Tuesday” and gathered together in the biggest hall to eat a pancake supper. I might bring that tradition here tonight.