An old tradition in the valley of the Upper Rhine, southern Germany and Switzerland, Fasnacht or Fastnacht (carnival) is the time of the year when the reign of bad spirits of the cold and grim winter period is over and these spirits are symbolically being hunted down and expelled.
See at the bottom of the page for my 2018 events update.
Carnival – Fasnacht in the valley of the Upper Rhine:
A very old tradition
In Swiss German the word Fasnacht is often connected to fasten “to fast” by popular etymology, allegedly from celebrations on the eve preceding fasting.
Comparison of dialect variants however yields to different other origins including some interpreted or connected with fertility rites.
Fasnacht is held in the settlement area of the Germanic tribes of the Swabians and Alemans, where Swabian–Alemannic dialects are spoken. The region covers German Switzerland, the larger part of Baden-Württemberg, Alsace, south-western Bavaria and Vorarlberg (western Austria).
Every year the festival starts on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday, known as Schmotziger Donnerstag or Fettdonnerstag. In Standard German, schmutzig means “dirty”, but in the Alemannic dialects schmotzig means “fat”; “Greasy Thursday”, as remaining winter stores of lard and butter used to be consumed at that time, before the fasting began.
Elsewhere the day is called “Women’s Carnival” (Weiberfastnacht), being the day when tradition says that women take control. In particular regions of Tyrol, Salzburg and Bavaria traditional processions of the Perchten welcome the springtime.
The Schönperchten (beautiful Perchts) represent the birth of new life in the awakening nature, the Schiachperchten (“ugly Perchts”) represent the dark spirits of wintertime. Farmers yearn for warmer weather and the Perchtenlauf (Run of Perchts; typical scenery) is a magical expression of that desire. The nights between winter and spring, when evil ghosts are supposed to go around, are also called Rauhnächte (rough nights).
The nights between Winter and Spring
An old tradition in the valley of the Upper Rhine, southern Germany and Switzerland, carnival is the time of the year when the reign of bad spirits of the cold and grim winter period is over and these spirits are symbolically being hunted down and expelled.
By the end of winter, each year around January and February, people dress up as demons, witches, earthly spirits and dreadful animals to enact this scene of symbolic expulsion. What happens in fact is an expulsion of the winter season that symbolises death, silence and destruction. (Just look at what happens to plants in a cold winter and you get the image.)
So before spring can come and the perennial cycle of life can start over again, old forms have to be destroyed for new ones to come into existence. The notions ‘carnival’ (carne = meat) or ‘fastnacht’ (= at the wake of Lent) also refer to the beginning of the Christian tradition of the 40 day-long fasting (or Lenting) season. Whereas during carnival, people go mad, chaos rules, hierarchies are overthrown and one indulges in food and drinks, the fasting season marks an end of this. Remembering the suffering and death of Jesus, many Christians abstain from meat, alcohol, sweets and festivities until Easter, the resurrection of Jesus.
All these rituals are telling stories of death, chaos, life-cycles and resurrection.
Carnival — this combination of pagan beliefs and Christian traditions — can thus be interpreted as the symbolic preparation for a new annual cycle.
My personal selection for 2018 Carnival events not to be missed …
Every year carnival is for me a colorful highlight in the middle of the winter. In 2018 I will attend the following crazy events. It is my personal selection based on several years of experience and I suggest you come with me :-).
- Wednesday, FEB 07, 2018 – Official opening of the Fasnacht of Gengenbach, Germany. Gengenbach is a lovely city some 30 kilometers south-east of Strasbourg. Also a spectacular parade on Sunday unfortunately at the same time as Emmendingen. Here is the programme!
- Sunday, FEB 11, 2018 – Carnival parade in Emmendingen, Germany. A short hour drive for our guests staying in one of our holiday apartments in Riquewihr or La Vancelle.
Dedicated website of the Emmendinger Narrengilde (in German)
- Monday, FEB 12, 2018 – Rosenmontag in Freiburg-im-Breisgau, with a great parade in the afternoon …
- Tuesday, FEB 13, 2018 – Fat Tuesday, carnival parade in Hoerdt. The eldest Carnival parade in Alsace, always taking place on Fat Tuesday. The city is 15 minutes driving north of Strasbourg. Here is their web page (in French only) with some interesting info about history.
Important: if you wish to have lunch in Hoerdt before the parade (an experience!) make sure you book in advance or arrive well before noon.
- Tuesday, FEB 13, 2018 – Fat Tuesday, late afternoon in Gengenbach, Germany: cremation of the witch sticks (spectacular) in front of the town hall. The keys of the city are handed back to the mayor. Official closure of the local carnival festivities.
- Saturday, FEB 17, 2018 – in the late afternoon: the mayor of Sélestat hands over the keys of the city to the fools. Big night parade worth to be experienced.
A 15 minutes drive only for our guests staying in one of our holiday apartments in Riquewihr (15 minutes also from La Vancelle)
Sélestat Tourist office website (French / English)
- Sunday, FEB 18, 2018– in the afternoon, Big carnival parade in Mulhouse.
Mulhouse is a 40 minutes drive for our guests staying in one of our holiday apartments in Riquewihr (45 minutes from La Vancelle). Park your car in the suburbs and take the tram to the city center. Or take the train from Sélestat.
Dedicated website (French)
- Monday, FEB 19, 2018 – In the middle of the night, at 04:00 AM precisely, starts the Morgenstreich in Basel, Switzerland. See my picture gallery of the Morgenstreich 2016. The Morgenstreich is a major and spectacular event that starts the Basel carnival. The Morgenstreich or procession of lanterns, is consistently held the Monday following Ash Wednesday.
You have to earn it! Every year, a special train chartered by the SNCF (the French railways company) takes the Alsatian participants to what is the most famous carnival in the region. The train leaves Strasbourg at 1:15 am, stops and takes travelers at Sélestat, Colmar and Mulhouse before arriving at Basel a little before 4:00 am. Special rate: 1 fixed price (approx EUR 33) return ticket for up to 5 people. You can take any regular train to come back that same day.
The Carnival of Basel begins every year at 4 o’clock in the night, the Monday following Ash Wednesday and goes on for 72 hours of colorful festivities.
Basler Fasnacht Online website (German)
Fasnacht Comité website (German / English)
- Tuesday, FEB 20, 2018 – Basel : In the afternoon, the drum and fife bands stroll through the city with music. At nightfall: exhibition of lanterns on the cathedral square.
- Wednesday, FEB 21, 2018 – Basel in the afternoon. The great carnival parade through the old city. Spectacular and huge!
For the carnival period stay in one of our warm and comfortable holiday apartments in Alsace!
Our vacation rental gites in Riquewihr, Alsace or in the beautifully located mountain village La Vancelle are the perfect base to visit all Alsace, the Vosges mountains and even nearby Germany and Switzerland. The warmest and most comfortable ones, perfect for a warm winter stay are to be seen here.
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