Because it’s Fasching! Well technically, it ended yesterday, but I had to wait to get pictures of our princess in her Tuesday Best!
Dating back to the Middle Ages, the celebration of Karneval- or Fasching- the European relative of Mardi Gras — is a time for eating, drinking and merriment before the solemn days of Lent. It traditionally begins on Epiphany (January 6) and ends at midnight just before Ash Wednesday. It’s for this reason that Germans- as well as many other Europeans- consider this a ‘Fifth Season’ of the year. :)
This colorful festival takes place 52 days before Easter, generally ending with a bang- food, music, dancing and parades- on Shrove Tuesday. Karneval is celebrated throughout Germany, the three most popular versions being Karneval in the Rhineland region, Fasching in Southern Germany and Fastenacht in Baden Würrtemberg.
The word Fasching dates back to the 13th century and is derived from the Germanic word vaschanc or vaschang, in modern German: Fastenschank = the last serving of alcoholic beverages before Lent. In olden times the 40-day Lenten period of FASTing was strictly observed. People refrained from drinking alcohol or eating meat, milk products and eggs.
The undisputed capital of Karneval is Cologne, followed by Dusseldorf and Mainz (where we lived this past spring.) In the months leading up to the season, Karneval Clubs (yes, they’re a real thing and apparently big business!) hold meetings to discuss upcoming performances, costumes, parades and float designs. Imagine rivals for NYC’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, but put them in various cities throughout the country! WOW!
While the celebrations have plenty of religious ties, they actually go back even further to pagan times, and originated as a way of driving out the evil spirits of winter and encouraging the coming of spring and good crops. This helps to explain the difference in costumes when compared to things like Mardi Gras. Costumes have evolved around themes of dark ghosts representing the cold season contrasted by the bright, colorful spirits of spring. Scary, ugly masks are still worn to scare away the cold, hard winter. These traditional themes symbolize the eager anticipation of the growing season, a time farmers and consumers long for.
In the Middle Ages, Karneval gave the people a break from the tightly structured class system, as they were able to hide their social background behind imaginative masks and costumes. Poor people were able to mix with all other levels of society and share fun with them. In those days, people would dress up as knights, damsels and even priests, as a way of making fun of them. In a similar way, people these days sometimes wear masks to make fun of well-known politicians or celebrities.
So this week has been yet another reason that we’re so glad we chose to live smack dab int he middle of the city. Food vendors have lined the streets for block after block, the smells of donuts, gluhwein (you didn’t think it was only for Christmas, did you?!), spiced nuts, beer and pretzels wafting through the air like little olfactory gems…Huge music stages were set up in every surrounding park, their nightly bands still going strong and lulling us to sleep at night…And folks of all ages can be seen at any time of the day dressed in their most elaborate, snazzy costumes. Such a fun thing to be a part of! Speaking of which…
Neve’s school celebrated Fasching, too! We walked in the door there yesterday morning and were whisked away to a private Karneval celebration! Decorations that the students had been making for the last couple weeks hung from the ceiling and the walls…Traditional festive music was playing over the sound system and festival snacks were lined up on the counters…Best of all, all the kids got to wear their favorite costumes for the day and have their faces painted. There were princesses, fairy godmothers, super heroes, ninjas, ladybugs…Neve was SO excited!
And as if this week couldn’t get any more fun, John surprised his girls with a quick trip to Paris this coming weekend for Valentine’s Day! WOOHOO! It’s been years since we’ve been there- our last time together was in 2006 and my last time was a girly weekend with my mom in 2010- and Neve has been waiting to see the Eiffel Tower. The icing on the heart-shaped cake? We’re taking her to Disneyland (in Paris) on Saturday, but she doesn’t know it yet. <3