Used in Germany for this Festival below.
Just when we think that old man winter will never loosen his grip comes the time of year when people all over the world join in pre-lenten festivities. Predominantly found in areas with large Catholic populations, this time of year goes by many different names like Mardi Gras and Carnival. All fundamentally celebrate the same thing, the days leading up to Lent. Observed by most Christian Denominations, Lent is defined as the 40 day period before Easter of penitence and fasting for the believer. In Southern Germany pre-lenten festivities are known as Fasching, Fastnacht or Karneval, depending on the region. While each area has its own traditions and rituals, Fasching is primarily celebrated in Southern western Germany.
No matter what it is called, one constant in every celebration in Germany, as well as around the world, is that masks are worn. The carved wooden masks in Southern Germany are especially notable because of their craftsmanship and long history.
Fasching and its Masks
While Fasching is a celebration of the days leading up to Lent, it's roots can be traced back to pagan times. Carnivals were held with townspeople wearing elaborate and frightening wooden masks to drive out the evil spirits that had settled in the town over the cold dreary winter. Once the spirits had been scared away, the hope was that warmer weather and healthy crops would soon appear.
During medieval times, common folk wore masks so they could interact with people from higher stations in life during Fasching celebrations. People would also dress up like, and make fun of, nobility while hiding behind masks. Commoners could openly mock the politicians and leaders of the town without fear of retribution. This practice so annoyed some nobility that for a short time in the late 1700's the celebrations were banned. This is when the traditions of balls and parties began.
Today, Fasching is five days filled with revelry. It begins on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday. This first day is dedicated to the ladies. Women walk around town, mocking leaders and playing jokes on people. They even snip the bottom off men's ties. Local clubs host parades throughout the weekend and parties every evening. The big parade is on Rosenmontag (Rose Monday). With shouts of Narri Narro or another traditional parade greeting, groups of masked participants parade down the streets. Witches circle around people and throw them in the air. Fools walk by ringing bells and dressed in their town colors while knocking people's hats off or dancing around an unsuspecting spectator. Hansels walk by with huge pretzels on sticks and if someone is lucky, they get one. Floats go by, bands play loudly and candy is handed out at every turn. Some events include speakers mocking public figures. Fasching, like Mardi Gras and Carnival, is a raucous fun-filled event.
All of this fun and mischief goes on behind the facade of masks. Every town has it's own witch, fool and hansel. Harkening back to pagan customs, there are frightening goats head masks with demonic horns. Exquisitely carved out of wood, some of these masks are quite old and have been handed down from generation to generation. Unlike the delicate masks of New Orlean's Mardi Gras or Venice's Carnival, these masks are quite heavy, weighing up to 20 pounds. Fasching masks are an integral and fascinating part of Southern German tradition and make pre-lenten festivities that much more intriguing. Narri! Narro!
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