Fasnacht, or Karneval or Fasching depending on where you are celebrating, are large festivals held around the time of Lent (sometimes earlier or later), but usually starting on Dirty Thursday and lasting through just until the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday. Each region and celebration has its own unique traditions which are a mix of Christian religious preparation for the fast before Easter, old pagan beliefs and folk customs. For example, Basel is famous for their drums and their intricately-carved, giant wooden masks of slightly demonic-looking characters, or Tschääggättä, used to "scare" away demons. Solothurn, Fribourg and Winterthur have fire ceremonies in which an effigy of a broom or a witch (or something else equally wicked) are burned. The best way for me to describe this holiday to Americans is as follows: take Halloween, mix it with the best block party you have ever been to, set something on fire while making fun of the government, add a marching band and then smash that all together and give it steroids. Give it a double dose. And then sing a naughty song and take a shot of Schnapps with a man dressed as a nun. Or the pope. Or a pope nun - it's all good for Fasnacht.
Here in Baden, they are big on Guggenmusik. Ah, Guggenmusik, how I both love and loath thee. Guggenmusik is performed by clubs, or cliques, which practice all year to coordinate their costumes, choreography, and play songs...but slightly off-key. This is on purpose, I have been assured by locals, as an extra measure to 1. be crazy for Fasnacht and 2. scare away winter. It is imperative to make an ernest effort to scare away winter. After Christmas, aside from fondue and snow sports, that is the focus.
We live in the Altstadt, so we find ourselves right in the thick of the party. No joke, we actually can't really escape the party. In our living room, we can hear one clique playing the Chicken Dance and in our bathroom another playing Katy Perry's "Roar" in Guggenmusik fashion. We've learned to embrace our inner band geeks. In fact, we've made a song list on Spotify of every song that we have heard so far. These are the original songs, just so you can get a taste of the mood.
This year, we visited the Luzern Fasnacht which is really beautiful right on the lake. The old town was a labyrinth of colors, costumes and themed family wagons pulled by parents filled with snacks for the kids and beverages for the parents. The best course of action was to join a parade and follow the folly. Around each corner was a new surprise or a little satirical skit. My personal favorite was the troupe of dudes dressed as naked hikers. And yes, naked hikers really do exist here in Switzerland.
Check out more pictures in the slideshow below and don't miss the little video of a tiny surprise parade:
If you'd like to learn a little more about the traditions of Fasnacht throughout Switzerland and Germany, check out these articles:
Swiss Carnival Traditions: Party-time in Switzerland by Swiss Vistas, a travel and cultural website written by Fida Wild.
Fasching and Karneval by The German Way and More, a cultural orientation site for anyone interested in the culture or is headed to Germany, Switzerland or Austria. Based on the original book, German Way by Hyde Flippo and now updated by the Flippo family and a network of expats living in these countries.