The carnival session, which is also called “The Fifth Season” begins on 11 November at 11:11a.m. each year and ends on Ash Wednesday of the following year. The main festivities take place around Rosenmontag (Rose Monday) with various carnival parades.
Carnival is an important factor of German, Austrian and Swiss customs and traditions though the celebrations can vary from one country to another or even from one region to another – just like the name: ”
In parts of East and South Germany, as well as in Austria, the carnival is called Fasching. In Franconia and Baden-Württemberg as well as some other parts of Germany, the carnival is called Fas(t)nacht or Fasnet; in Switzerland, Fasnacht.
While Germany’s carnival traditions are mostly celebrated in the predominantly Roman Catholic southern and western parts of the country, the Protestant North traditionally knows a festival under the Low Saxon namesFastelavend[ˈfastl̩.ˌɒːvm̩t], Fastelabend[ˈfastl̩.ˌɒːbm̩t] and Fastlaam (also spelled Fastlom) [ˈfastl̩ɒːm]. This name has been imported to Denmark as Fastelavn and is related to Vastelaovend in the Low-Saxon-speaking parts of the Netherlands.
But where does the carnival session actually come from? People have already been celebrating a kind of carnival in the Middle Ages and even before. It mainly consisted of rituals to celebrate the end of winter:
“During Roman times, for instance, people along the Rhine celebrated a festival in honor of their wine god Dionysos in spring – a feast with much drinking and laughing, a feast during which people had complete freedom to criticize authorities without fear of repercussions for a few days. Some of that tradition still lives on today.
When the cities along the river Rhine were christianized, the church included these festivities into the official church calender. Carnival takes places 6 weeks before Easter and exactly before the period of fasting or Lent begins. Before the 40 days of fasting, which was (and still is) supposed to be a reflective and abstinent time, a lot of Christians wanted to celebrated and enjoy themselves one last time: “Eating and drinking, rowdy behavior and indulging in the pleasures of the flesh were all considered a part of preparing oneself for the fast, a sort of purging the body through partying.” (Deutsche Welle, DW) – Surprisingly, this was and still is tolerated buy the church.
If you want to know more about the history of carnival, visit Deutsche Welle, DW .
Where to go to see a carnival parade: Carnival parades take place in almost every city, their size and popularity often depends on the size of the city itself. One of the biggest and most famous parades takes place in Cologne. If you want to explore the spirit of carnival, you should go and see the “Rosenmontagszug” (Rose monday’s parade) – but be careful: although it is not an official holiday, a lot of shops and restaurants might be closed, buses and trains have different time tables and might take other routes. If you are interested in visiting Cologne during the carnival week visit Cologne Tourism Carnival Dates for more information!
What actually happens during a carnival parade? A parade consists of a various number of vehicles that represent a carnival club, an institution or other. The vehicles are decorated with banners or even figures of e.g. politicians and happen to express critical political views. On the vehicles you find the representatives of the presented institution or club dressed up, waving at the people and throwing sweets. The procedure is accompanied by traditional carnival music. Hundreds of thousands of people celebrate in the streets dressed up in costumes and trying to catch the sweets. Afterwards you find a lot of parties in clubs and bars where you can celebrate throughout the whole night – but be aware of that the parades already start between 1 and 2p.m. and the clubs and bars often open their doors at 4p.m. – you might be exhausted and back in bed before midnight!
Want to listen to some typical carnival music? Take a look at this Karnevals Klassiker Playlist and be prepared for your ultimate carnival experience! 😉