I love Carnival. I suspect that the word ‘Carnival’ has conjured up images of feather clad women shaking their booties to a heavy samba beat and that’s why you’re nodding in agreement. Actually, Somerset Carnival couldn’t be further from this. The Carnival I am actually talking about is a procession of decorated tractors in November, which, let’s be honest, isn’t that conducive to feather bikinis.
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.