I never knew that the Swiss had such a wild side to them with a penchant for costumes and all night partying. The arrival of Fasnacht (Carnival) has revealed that this secretive nation has more than bank accounts hidden away.
Carnival season has been in full swing since the beginning of February and although the roots of the festival are in Basel with a three day festival that runs day and night from the first Monday following Ash Wednesday, the rest of Switzerland is keen to get in on the act and so now most towns seem to have a Fasnacht celebration. Basel Fasnacht originated way back in history (14th Century if not before) with an event that was less about celebration and more about defending the city with lots of blood shed. Today the carnival pokes fun at the politicians of the day (a bit like a street art version of Spitting Image), showcases the best of the country’s marching bands and spills tonnes of coloured paper confetti instead of blood. Another of the more famous carnivals is Lucerne carnival which dates back to the Middle Ages and has a central figure that is symbolic of fertility. For many, though, Fasnacht marks the end of winter heralding the arrival of Spring (a fraction premature if you ask me as we have just had another snow storm!) and the wearing of pagan masks is said to chase away evil spirits. Steinhausen Fasnacht parade would give us a flavour of this tradition.
Coming from Somerset in the UK, our experience of carnival has always been one of tractors pulling massive trailers that have been decorated with hundreds of lightbulbs, fantastic sets, popular music and local people dancing in wonderful costumes, all coming together in an illuminated parade on freezing cold nights in November. The roots of this celebration is based around Guy Fawkes and the defeat of his Gunpowder plot to blow up the House of Parliament – apparently one of the key instigators of the plot originated from a small village near Bridgwater (the location of the largest of these illuminated carnivals) and show how long they have been established as part of the local calendar. I love the Somerset Carnivals, always bowled over by the creativity of the participants, and so it was with great interest that we set off up the road to Steinhausen to get a flavour of our first Fasnacht.
Well, the Steinhausen parade wasn’t anything like the Somerset Carnivals. It was however, a great way to spend an otherwise dreary February afternoon. Local people lined the streets to watch the procession (everyone must book holiday from work, or there were a lot of people ‘sick’ in Steinhausen that day) kids and adults alike in fancy dress cheering their preferred bands dressed in weird and wonderful costumes, with the children going crazy for the sweets and oranges thrown to them by the carnival participants. The Guggenmusik (street music) provided a great soundtrack to the afternoon and prompted thoughts of British Marching Bands beloved by the Military and celebrated in the film ‘Brassed Off’ starring Ewan McGregor. The confetti guns showered the crowd with coloured paper dots which I am still finding round the house. (Note to self: remember to keep mouth closed). The celebrations went on all night with after parade parties and the clean up operation appears to be ongoing. I think that Lucerne Fasnacht may be on the agenda for next year, but before that I might be planning a trip back to the UK in November, anyone like to join me?