Fasching features dances, costumes, parades

by Petra Lessoing

***image1***This is the season of craziness, cheering up, dancing and disguise. It’s Germany’s fifth season called “Fasching.”

Depending on the area, the “silly season” has different names: in the Pfalz it’s called “Fassenacht” or “Fastnacht,” in Bavaria it’s “Fasching” and in the Cologne area it’s “Karneval.”

Fasching officially begins 11:11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month and ends Ash Wednesday, which this year is Feb. 25. During this time, many Fasching events are scheduled. Masquerade balls and Fasching dances are very popular. Visitors are encouraged to dress in costumes; if they are not in disguise, they have to pay a higher admission fee.

The “Prunksitzung,” which literally translated means pomp session, is another famous event carnival associations sponsor. Amateur comedians hold, in their local dialect, humorous speeches spiced with sarcasm about local happenings, people or politics in general. In between speeches, members of different carnival clubs sing and present skillful dances in colorful costumes.

A committee consisting of a president and 11 counselors watches the session from their seats in the back of the stage. After each performance, committee members present medals to the performers.

Carnival clubs are represented by a Fastnacht princess or prince. Every year, a new princess or prince is elected and usually she or he gets crowned New Year’s Eve.

Fastnacht has its origin in ancient times, when people realized that with the start of a new year spring would soon be on its way. To make it possible for spring to arrive, the demons of winter had to be chased away. Therefore, people dressed in evil looking costumes and masks. They danced in the streets looking like devils, demons and witches, and used noise-making devices, bells and drums to scare away winter ghosts.

Through the centuries, the season developed into a Christian ritual. The literal translation of the word “Fastnacht” means “night of fasting.” Today it’s the time of merriment and laughter preceding Lent, the 40-day period before Easter. The word Karneval also refers to the fasting period. The Latin expression “carne vale” means “farewell, meat” and described the time of celebrations before Lent, when people had to renounce meat, opulent meals and festivities.

The main days of the carnival season are Altweiberfasching (old women’s Fasching) Feb. 19, Rose Monday Feb. 23 and Fat Tuesday Feb. 24.

Rose Monday is known for colorful parades with floats, musicians, dancers and walking groups in creative costumes going through towns and cities. The biggest parade in the Westpfalz area is in Ramstein-Miesenbach Feb. 24.