During the winter months, there is a tradition in Germany that dates back to the 16th century and is one of the oldest German customs. Centuries older than the celebration of Oktoberfest, and to most folk's surprise, much more popular! Today, many German’s carry on this long lived tradition with parades, parties and events that draw out millions of locals and visitors to the streets.  

Here in Chicago we have a German Mardi Gras club, so I have had the pleasure of celebrating the Karneval season and Fasching for many years and it's always a blast. But what is it all about? What is Fasching? What is the celebration for? I found many of these answers on my friend Karen's blog, germangirlinamerica.com.

Here is what she says about Karneval:

 Photo from chicagoprinz.com

What is Fasching aka Karneval?

It is a time of feasting and frivolity, of parades and parties, of masks and costumes. It is a time of really cutting loose before the austerity of Lent. And it is a way to chase away winter demons.

 When Does Fasching Start?

While Fasching officially begins in many regions on November 11 at 11 minutes after 11 am, the celebrating generally starts on January 7, the day after Dreikoenigstag. Why is November 11 so important? After the French Revolution, the French under Napoleon took over part of the Rhineland. Their motto – “ Egalität, Legalität, Fraternität” (Equality, Liberty, Fraternity). Take the first letter of each word  E, L, F and you have elf, the number 11.
In many cities, a mock government of 11 Fools or Elferrat (there’s that 11 again) is elected to oversee the pageantry. A Prince and Princess are also chosen to “rule” over the events. Parades, Balls and dancing in the street happen in almost every town in Germany. In Cologne, they elect The Dreigestirn, (virgin, prince and farmer).
The costumes and masks allowed the common people to mock their kings and princes without fear of reprisal. Comical skits, speeches and plays were quite common. This is a time of wild abandon… of chasing fears and flaunting authority.

Karneval Fasching

Different names for the same celebration. What is Karneval/Fasching called in different areas of Germany?

Karneval in the “Rheinland” (Rhineland) area

Fastnacht around the city of Mainz (‘fasting night’, or eve of Lent, the period of fasting)

Fasnet in Swabia (south-west region of Germany) and in the southwest of the state of Bavaria

Fosnat in the Franken region (northern Bavaria)

Fasching around the city of “München” (Munich) and in Austria

Fasching Season Germany

Regardless of when Fasching or Karneval begins, the most of the celebrations take place during the week leading up to Ash Wednesday, and the beginning of Lent. (Remember… Lent is the 40 days BEFORE Easter, not counting Sunday…. And the date of Easter is always the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox. In 2017 Easter Falls on April 16)
The Thursday before Ash Wednesday, is when things really go crazy!
The primary celebration days for Fasching / Karneval are: Elften Elften um Elf Uhr Elf – The official opening of Fasching! In cities like Cologne, the elected “Mock” government and the Prince and Princess begin to rule over the events. For the next 3 months, there are Karneval parties, but things are a bit more low key until…… the TOLLE TAGE Weiberfastnacht – (The Thursday BEFORE Ash Wednesday). This is Ladies Karneval day, and in some communities it begins with Women taking over City Hall (not a bad idea). Any man caught wearing a tie (a symbol of manhood) may have it cut off…. YIKES! Or he may get a kiss. The day ends with costumes and parties. Saturday and Sunday during this week are prime time for Karneval Balls and Fasching Parties!
Rosenmontag- (Rose Monday) – This is the big Parade day. All over the Rhineland massive parades are held in celebration of Karneval. Fastnachtdiesnstag – (Shrove Tuesday) – The party can only go until midnight, because then it’s Ash Wednesday, and time for austerity. There may be some parties or parades, but the day ends with the burning of the Nubbel, a life sized straw doll, that holds all of the sins committed during Karneval Season. (Sort of a scape goat).


In America, the Mardi Gras in New Orleans in the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Carnival season, but there are many Karneval or German Mardi Gras Societies here in the US! My sister and I dress up every year for the Fasching celebration here in Chicago and while we don't get to have a large parade in the streets, the evening of celebration is always a great time. 

 Photo of my sister and I from Fasching in Chicago 2016 (check out Monika's Vest ;-) Looks familiar?!)

Do you celebrate Karneval or Fasching in your city? Have you been to Germany during Karneval? I'd love to hear all about in the comments, so please do share!

gear heads costume

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February 01, 2020 — Erika Neumayer

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