Carnival: Called many names, it means parties and parades
By MICHAEL ABRAMS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 8, 2012
It’s that season again. Not winter or spring, summer or fall. It is the season of folly and fun; of masks, parties and parades. It is the “fifth season,” the Carnival season.
Call it Fasching, Karneval, Fastnacht or Carnevale. Celebrate it with the Dutch, the French or the Spanish. Celebrate it in Germany, Italy, Croatia, Belgium or Switzerland.
Whatever you call it, and wherever you celebrate it, from now until Ash Wednesday — and in some places longer — much of Europe is in the grip of this pre-Lenten festival.
Where its name, and the celebration itself, come from has long been debated.
The name possibly comes from the Latin carne vale, meaning “meat, farewell.” The German Fastnacht — literally “fast night” — refers to the night before fasting begins on Ash Wednesday.
Some trace the celebrations back to pagan customs of driving out the evil spirits of winter. Others say it is rooted in ancient Greek celebrations for their god of wine, Dionysus.
For Christians, it was a time to eat, drink and be merry before the stark days of Lent.
Today, it seems to be a mix of everything. For some, a last chance to whoop it up before fasting; for others just another reason to party.You can celebrate Carnival from Croatia on the Adriatic coast to the Canary Islands in the Atlantic. Here are some of the highlights of the season:
In this region made up of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, two notable places to celebrate the season are Binche, Belgium; and Maastricht, Netherlands.
Maastricht is one big street carnival from the Sunday before Ash Wednesday when the Moos-wief, an effigy of a city statue, is raised on a mast, to when she is lowered again at midnight Tuesday night.
In Binche, Shrove Tuesday is the day of the Gilles. Dressed in orange costumes, members of the Gilles, an all-male society, wear masks with eyeglasses, a mustache and beard painted on them. In the early hours of the morning, the society’s drummers go from house to house drumming up members. Then between 10 a.m. and noon, they perform dances in front of the city hall.
The Grand Parade begins at 3 p.m., with the Gilles dressed in hats decorated with ostrich feathers.
The two strongholds of Carnival are Rijeka, on the northwest coast, and Split.
The high point of the Rijeka celebrations is the parade on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday.
Split, also on the Adriatic, marks the season with costumes and Carnival merriment.
The place to be is Nice, on the Côte d’Azur, where His Majesty King Carnival rules. Nice’s Bataille de Fleurs — battle of flowers — parade offers colorful floats adorned with flowers and beautiful women pelting spectators with blossoms. There also are the Corso Carnavalesque parade, with King Carnival on his own royal float, and the nighttime Corso Illuminé. Here the fun lasts until March 4, when the King Carnival float is set on fire.
The big shebang is on Rose Monday or Rosenmontag on Feb. 20 (the Presidents Day holiday this year), when more than a million people will line the streets of Cologne, Düsseldorf and Mainz for big parades that feature floats, costumes and marching bands.
The Black Forest is also known for its Carnival, called Fasnet. The most famous event in this region is the Narrensprung, or Fools Jump, in Rottweil at 8 a.m. on Rose Monday. An army of masked figures marches down the street making little jumps with the aid of a wooden pole.
In Munich, the big day is on Shrove Tuesday, the day before the start of Lent. The downtown pedestrian zone between Karlsplatz and the Viktualienmarkt becomes party central and thousands gather to watch a Carnival event that is unique to Munich: the Tanz der Markt-frauen. Women who usually sell fruits, vegetables and other items at the city’s market dress up in costumes decorated with the wares they sell and dance on the Viktualienmarkt, starting at 11 a.m.
Highlights of the season are the celebrations in Venice, Via-reggio and Acireale, on Sicily.
In Acireale, 100,000 spectators converge on the city’s main square and surrounding streets to see elaborate costumes and colorful floats. In Viareggio, gigantic floats parade down the city’s streets.
Carnevale di Venezia starts on Feb. 4, but it is the two weekends before Ash Wednesday when thousands of tourists fill the city to watch creatures masquerading in flamboyant costumes. They pose for photographers in the Piazza San Marco and along the canals, or they glide by in the city’s famous gondolas.
Who is hiding behind those masks? Who knows? But it’s just as likely to be a German art student as it is a Venetian.
Celebrate in Cadiz, where events start on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday and continue until the Sunday after, or on the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean.
One of Europe’s best carnival celebrations takes place in Basel on the Monday following Ash Wednesday.
The Morgenstreich begins at exactly 4 a.m. when all the lights in the city center go off. In pitch darkness, the sound of drums and piccolos wafts through the cold night air.
Suddenly they come, from all directions, the musicians of the Fasnacht clubs of the city, most of them wearing masks with small lights on their heads.
For hours this eerie procession crisscrosses the old town playing strange melodies. At dawn, it is over. Spectators and participants retreat into bars, cafes and restaurants to have a drink and warm up on the traditional Mehlsuppe, a thick flour soup. In the afternoon, the bands start up again and the fun continues.