Tag Archives: Fasching

Fasching, Fastnacht, Carnival – Helau!


Are you ready for the last days of Fasching? Yes, the Carnival or ‘närrische Zeit’ of the year as some name it is coming to an end. The last week of Fasching, the actual ‘Fastnachtswoche’,  is starting this Thursday with the Weiberfastnacht culminating in Rosenmontag (Rose Monday) and  Faschings-Dienstag (also called Veilchendienstag) before Ash Wednesday calls an end to the time of costume balls and masquerade parades and fun.

HISTORICAL Roots of Fasching

Even though some of the carnival’s roots go back to the Romans and their festivals of Saturnalia and Bacchanalia, the tradition of the Fasching and Carnival as we know it now started in the medieval times. Originally tied to the Liturgical Year Church Calendar Fasching or Carnival started officially on January 6th , Epiphany or ‘Dreikönigsfest’, and ended on Ash Wednesday ringing in the 40 days of Lent, during which time no rich foods, such as meat, dairy, fats and sugar and alcohol were allowed.

In 1823 a special Carnivals committee in Cologne decided to have carnival begin on the 11. of November the same day as St. Martin’s Day but at the exact time of 11:11am. This seemed to create the perfect “Carnival date” of the 11.11 of any year at 11:11am.  In Cologne carnival is part of the city’s history and this date marked the day of the official initiation of the Faschings Prince and Princess and the starting of costume balls and masquerade parties.

Carnival or Fasching – “Say Good-Bye to Meat & Alcohol”

The word Carnival evolved most likely  from the Latin words carne and vale which means something like “say good-bye to meat”, announcing the time of fasting that would follow the excessive partying.

Fasching , Fastnacht or Fasnacht (Switzerland) refers to the long night before the fasting starts . In fact the ‘long night’ means actually the six days from Thursday (Weiberfastnacht) to Faschingsdienstag (Tuesday before ash Wednesday). The word is thought to come from fasting and night but folk etymological roots point also to the word “Fastenschank”, which means the last (alcoholic) drink before the fasting.

The term Fasching is mostly used in Bavaria and Austria.

Carnival and Fasching Traditions

How Carnival is celebrated varies from region to region within Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and of course it takes on quite a different color and flavor if we go outside the German speaking countries. Think of the celebrations in other countries, like the Carnival in Venice or the one in Rio, Brazil!

Parades and costume balls are custom all over Germany during carnival season with the biggest and most famous ones in Cologne, Mainz and Düsseldorf happening on Rosenmontag (Rose Monday). During this time scathing political and social commentary, fantastic costumes and normal citizens in the role of kings and princes, knights and generals are part of the fun while the rich and pretentious in society are ridiculed by “fools” and Court jesters.

An institution for every serious Carnival Club is having an official “Faschings Prinzenpaar”, the Carnival’s designated Prince and Princess, who are getting elected for the Faschings season on November 11th and will guide the crowd of “Faschings fools” (das Narrenvolk) through all festivities.

Faschings KrapfenThe two most used traditional salutations in Germany during Carnival are “Helau” and “Alaaf”.  And what is the most famous Faschings food?

The “Faschings” Krapfen!      This delicacy resembles a doughnut, but definitely is not one, and it is absolutely essential to have them for every Faschings party!

Many regions have their very own special Fasching traditions. In Munich for example everyone looks forward to the Tanz der Marktweiber at the Viktualienmarkt (dance of the merchant women of the Viktualienmarkt) on Schäfflertanz in MünchenFaschingsdienstag (Tuesday),  the Schäfflertanz and the traditional Weisswurstessen (Bavarian White sausage feast) on Rosenmontag (Rose Monday). On that day every guest in the inner city is invited by the local restaurants to indulge on a Weisswurst for Euro 1 each. But only from 9am to 12noon, since a Weisswurst needs to have been eaten before the midday’s bell ringing!

weisswurstOh, and did you know…?  The Weisswurst ‘was born’ in Munich on Rosenmontag during Fasching in 1857!

Plan your own Faschings Party

Outside of Germany, Austria and Switzerland it’s sometimes hard to find traditional German foods. We are always on the search, and so far GermanDeli’s online store has never disappointed us and stays our favorite. Their “Brezen” are delicious and, if you are looking for Faschings-Krapfen to highlight your own Faschingsparty, you can find them at their online store too!

To top it all of, you can even host a traditional Weisswurstessen! We found Weisswürste, the typical sweet Mustard that goes with it, Brezen and Weissbier all at GermanDeli.com. Just make sure your “Weisswurst” is all eaten before the bell rings in noon!

So, here is to you!

Helau and Alaaf! Have a fun Carnival Week!

DATES for 2013:
Weiberfastnacht: Feb. 7, 2013
Rosenmontag: Feb. 11, 2013
Faschingsdienstag: Feb. 12, 2013
Aschermittwoch: Feb. 13, 2013
Wikipedia Germany
TK Logo Wissenschaftsmagazin

HALLOWEEN – The Informal Start of Winter And The Holiday Season

Driving through the neighborhoods one can see ghouls and ghosts and pumpkins everywhere: Halloween! Kids are eagerly watching the neighbors’ decorations and are bound to top them with scarier stuff on their own front porch. Young & old seem to love Halloween, the dress-up parties and whatever else comes with it.

When I moved to California Halloween was a custom I knew of, but never had observed, since there was no such festivity in Germany at that time. Times have changed and I am witnessing my family and friends over there today engaging in Halloween parties, getting the kids ready for their Halloween trick or treat night as if they lived right next door to me! “Hey, that’s not fair” my little one exclaims. “They have Fasching twice!”

Not really but in essence true. But where does the Halloween custom come from and is there some correlation to our German Fasching? Wikipedia gives an in depth explanation on Halloween mentioning that the word Halloween came up the first time in the 16th century and represented a Scottish version of All-Hallows-Even (Hallow meaning in old English, Saints) and therefore was the night before All Saints Day, a holiday observed by most of the Western Christian world. People had the superstitious belief that during that time the dead could return to earth and according to the ancient Celtic ‘Samhain’ celebration, which influenced Halloween as well, spirits both harmless and harmful could pass through to the world. To ward of these spirits ancient Celts disguised themselves as harmful spirits themselves so they would not be harmed.

The tradition of kids going from door to door apparently stems from the medieval times “ when poor folk would go door to door on Hallowmas (November 1) receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (November 2)” (Wikipedia)

Halloween seems to also mark a turning point where fall for sure turns into winter. The months for various festivities  have started and we are being reminded that the end of the year is near. Interesting also here the relation to the festival of Samhain that celebrates the end of the “lighter half” of the year and beginning of the “darker half”. It is in fact sometimes regarded as the “Celtic New Year” (Wikipedia).  The Romans had a festival ‘Feralia’ where the spirits of the dead were honored. Feralia though was celebrated in February, which brings us back to the German Fasching being related to Halloween after all. One memorable Weiberfastnacht’s event near Garmisch Partenkirchen in fact brings back images of horrible witches and other scary figures streaming through the villages. Isn’t that similar to what we will experience tomorrow night?

By the way, the official start of our German Fasching is also in November. To be exact November 11, at 11:11 am!