World Blog Surf Day/Holidays and Celebrations/Fasnacht!

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So, this is my first post in a ring of this type, and I hope the organizers can forgive me for it being a bit late – having a toddler makes me pretty brain addled sometimes. World Blog Surf Day is an opportunity to learn something new about a different culture, especially through the eyes of a non-native.

The topic for this year’s World Blog Surf Day is Holidays and Celebrations – what is your new favorite as an expat living in a foreign country? My husband and I had a chat about this today. We’ve encountered so many fascinating cultural things unique to Switzerland. We narrowed it down to three: Fasnacht, the Zurich Limmatswimmen, and of course the cow parade when they are moved between the winter and summer pastures.

I think the wildest festival, and the one that is completely local to northern Switzerland where we live is Fasnacht. World Blog Surf Day is a perfect time to introduce the world to this crazy Swiss tradition. Fasnacht is like a mashup of Halloween, Groundhog’s Day, Mardi Gras, and a trade show all wrapped up together. Each town that celebrates it has a huge parade of participants wearing incredible costumes and masks that rival anything we’ve ever seen before. Members of various guilds dress in matching costumes, and often have a band. Confetti is everywhere, and even the parade-viewers dress up.

The festival is based on the idea of frighting away the winter and welcoming the spring. It is usually celebrated close to Mardi Gras, which is Lent, the beginning of the Christian period leading up to Easter. The festivities are run by the city and by the guilds of that city. In the middle ages, guilds were very popular, and the membership in them passed from family to family. Most guilds were originally based on a particular trade, such as bakers, carpenters and wine merchants. You can read more about the Zurich Guilds here.

Our home city, Winterthur, has a huge celebration. While not as famous as the one in Basel, the Wintherthur Fasnacht festivities go on for several days (and nights) culminating in an over-the-top parade. Each guild has their own matching set of costumes and/or masks, and nothing I can say can properly explain the excitement and chaos of the Winterthur Fasnacht.

On the day of the parade, my husband, son and I caught a bus into town very early into the altstadt (old town area). We scouted out a spot on the parade route, and waited. By the time the parade started, we were packed in. Our son fell asleep as soon as it started, so my husband pulled the stroller out of the crowd, and watched from further out. I braved the crowds right on the front line of the parade route (it was, at times, up to five people thick) and was stepped on, shoved, and drowned in confetti, but I got some great pictures out of it, and a great view. It was incredibly loud, and there were tons of bands all playing very good music.

One of the things I found most fascinating was all the masks. For each guild they are similar, as if made by the same person, but are often slightly different for each member. Most look like they are made of wood, but I assume that might be a bit too heavy. Regardless, I couldn’t help gasping each time I saw a new group go by.

Occasionally parade members would grab older children and carry them off partway down the parade route. They would usually try to grab children who were throwing confetti or acting even more wild than the rest of the crowd.

We held in until nearly the very end of the parade – about two and a half hours – but snuck out to catch a bus home, grinning and covered in confetti. We shook out our coats and the stroller (child removed, of course), and were still finding confetti for months afterwards.

If you are visiting or living in Switzerland, I would highly recommend checking out one of the major Fasnacht festivals. Here’s a few links to learn more:

So that’s about it! Please go on to read another great World Blog Surf Day, by visiting the next blog, BBE’s Video Snapshots and his post about All Saints Day in Belgium from the eyes of a UK expat. If you are reading through the ring, and find the chain broken, here the link to the master list of participants of the third WBSD.

Also, many thanks to Karen, who is helping in today’s events for World Blog Surf Day. Karen is an American expat blogger last seen in Prague. The Wall Street Journal said, “Her blog makes a fun read for anyone looking for reassurance that change can be a wonderful thing–and also for anyone interested in visiting the Czech Republic.” You can check out her blog here: Empty Nest Expat.

Fasnacht Parade in Winterthur 2009

I know I’ve been really terrible in keeping up with this blog. You should see the list of drafts that I have lined up in my WordPress Dashboard! Anywho, as a follow up to the Opening Ceremonies of Fasnacht, there was also a parade a few days later, which is the highlight of the whole festival.

We went into the altstadt early in the day to get a good spot for the parade, as we heard it can get quite crowded. That was an understatement. It seemed like the entire 100,000 population of Winterthur turned out!

But first, as the crowds gathered, we wandered around, getting lunch and a bag of confetti, and I took tons of pictures of the different guilds gathering.

Children and adults not participating in the parade dressed up too.

And then the parade started! Continue reading

Fasnacht 2009 in Winterthur – Opening Ceremonies

This weekend we went to several activities in the Altstadt (old town) for the festival of Fasnacht (click on the link or see my previous blog for a more complete explination). It was wild and fun! If we are still lucky enough to live in Switzerland next year, we’ll definitely have to get dressed up ourselves.

On Friday night we met up with one of our other expat friends and her daughter (who is nearly the same age as our son), and went to the Narrenbaum Stellen – basically opening ceremonies. In Winterthur, a lot of the festival activities are based on music played by local marching bands. And the bands are excellent! All night we heard what seemed to be a few traditional Swiss favorites mixed in with a lot of rock songs from the US and UK. It was really neat. The babies loved the live music, and we were all getting a kick out of the utterly wild costumes.

When we first arrived, we met up with our friend Jo and wandered the Altstadt together until we stumbled upon a bizzare tradition – a large group of students (male) shaving next to one of the many fountains that you find int he Altstadt. They’d also covered the statue for this fountain (a nude woman) in shaving foam. I don’t think it is exactly related to Fasnacht, but according to what Jo could discern from one of the onlookers, the boys shave and then grow huge chops for the next few months and then have a big party. I remember a few months ago seeing a bunch of young men getting on the bus with thick sideburns wearing stove-pipe hats (just like Abraham Lincoln) and rather old-fashioned tuxes and suits. I guess this goes on more than once a year.

A few metres away from the fountain was a long line of more young guys – probably about 30 or so – all facing one direction, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, with shaving items at their feet, and a beer in hand. After some sort of speech and a cheer, the guys all chugged their beers, and started shaving. It was hilarious. Again, it probably really had little to do with Fasnacht.

Continue reading

Fastnacht

This weekend (uncluding a national holiday on Monday) our town is celebrating Fastnacht. It is sort of a combination of Carnivale (Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, whatever you want to call it, Halloween, and Groundhog Day. Everyone dresses up in very wild wierd costumes and there are parades and food and at the end of the festivities, a burning of the Böögg, who is basically an effigy of old man winter.

So far, we’ve attended the opening ceremonies on Friday night that we didn’t fully understand. It was loud, lots of live music and crazy bizarre costumes, but a lot of fun. I’ll post more about it next week once I get the pictures uploaded.

For now, you can learn more about the truly Swiss festival of Fastnacht here on Wikipedia.