History and Traditions of Fasching

February 22, 2012 by

Festivals & Events, Free Things to Do, Things To Do

Fasching in Esslingen, Germany. Photo courtesy of LenDog64 via Flickr.

Fasching in Esslingen, Germany. Photo courtesy of LenDog64 via Flickr.

We all know the clichés: the Italians are passionate, the French are arrogant, the Germans are orderly. And you can find supporting evidence for all of those broad generalizations, but there is always an equal and opposite reaction lurking somewhere in the national psyche.

Take the Germans. Orderly? Sure. Usually. But if you venture to Munich in the dead of winter you might well catch them doing some very strange things indeed.

Much of the first two months of this year are taken up with Fasching, a time of exuberant celebration that coincides with and echoes New Orleans’s Mardi Gras as well as the Carnivals in Rio and Venice. Like those events, Fasching is a legacy of centuries past when Lent – the period of 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter – was rigorously observed. It was a somber, contemplative time when the faithful had to forgo rich foods, parties, even sex.

But before then? Anything goes!

In Munich, Fasching officially begins on November 11, when the Fasching Prince and Princess are announced, although it only really gets going on January 7. Old role playing is a huge component, with ubiquitous masks revealing a major Italian influence. If Lent is holy, Fasching is demonic, with horned, leering creatures still running amok. In fact the whole celebration can be seen as an inversion of all the Germans hold dear.

In a land where academic qualifications are paramount, Fasching is run by a “council of fools;” where order is a virtue, Fasching values spontaneity and bedlam. Like Easter, Fasching is a portable feast with a huge program of balls, parades, and partying in the streets climaxing on Fasching Tuesday (a.k.a. Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday).

-James Conway

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