What does carnival really mean

carnival - Mardi Gras - Mardi Gras

A short cultural tour

From a discussion on the Internet - for our friends in Latin America


Carnival - Mardi Gras - Faßnacht

Carnival is the Rhenish word, Fasching the southern German / Austrian, Faßnacht / Fastnet etc. occurs in some areas. I'll stick with Carnival for the sake of simplicity.


Where is Carnival celebrated?

Carnival is now celebrated almost everywhere in Germany and Austria, but more in the west and south than in the north and east.


When is Carnival celebrated?

The carnival season officially begins on November 11th. at 11:11. The main season begins on January 1st (when the flag is raised), the "great days" begin on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday and the season ends on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday at midnight. The exception is the Basel Carnival, which begins on Ash Wednesday at around 4 a.m. (and certainly not only there, but also in other Alemannic areas).


Where does the carnival come from?

Carnival is a very old tradition from pre-Christian times. It is related to the spirits of the night who are personified in masks. Representing in masks is a way of dealing with the negative forces. With the end of winter these spirits are driven away, the "driving out of winter", the victory of spring. The Austrian Glöckler, Perchten, Krampusse etc. can also be seen in this context. Carnival in this sense of "driving out winter" is particularly represented in the Allanian carnival, wholesale Stuttgart southwards, the Basel Carnival is one of the "purest" representatives. This carnival is demonstrated by parades with masks and grimaces.

For the sake of completeness it should be mentioned that there is also such a carnival in France, for example with the burning of a ghost, a kite etc. - this happens in my area at the beginning of spring, for example. Dressing up probably originated from this tradition.


Carnival - the great days

The "great days" probably come from Roman times / custom. There were celebrations on a few specific days of the year and the conjugal vow of loyalty could not be exercised. (Maybe this comes from a much earlier time, it's a very simple fertility rite). In these celebrations, people disguised themselves, but more in the sense of "hiding - making unrecognizable" than in the sense of "representing a ghost". The Austrian Carnival comes more from this side. It presents itself in particular with numerous balls, which also correspond to the court tradition. Today the distribution can be found on the axis Munich - Salzburg - Vienna. The balls dominate here, sometimes with and sometimes without disguise. A meaning of carnival: Carnevalerce in Italian means "to live out one's joy impetuously" (thanks to Christian for this hint)

The great days are also the time of nonsense, of fools. One interpretation of the word carnival is carrus navalis, the ship on the cart (ie on the land) in the sense of "upside down world". There are traditions in some countries that there is a fool (or a randomly chosen) king on this day. In France this is the "Tirage du Roi", the drawing of the king: whoever finds a 'fève' (literally bean, a small figure) in a cake is king.



In the Rhineland (Cologne to Mainz) this tradition has been kept that on Altweiberfaßnacht (Thursday before Ash Wednesday) the population storms the town hall and arrests the mayor. (He can usually get rid of himself by handing over a few bottles of wine). Altweiberfaßnacht? On this day in the Rhineland women of all ages cut off men's ties (they really cut, I recommend wearing an old worthless tie on days like this. Only the meaning is symbolic - otherwise it would be much more painful!) Also in the sense of "upside-down world" (the tie was originally also a distinguishing mark of the soldiers), but widespread: when Bonn was still the capital, this was even done in the Chancellery, which was stormed and the Chancellor himself was relieved of his tie.

Dressing up in costumes certainly comes from this context of foolishness + hiding. In this context there are the parades, mainly on Rose Monday, with the emphasis on the axis Düsseldorf - Cologne - Mainz, in contrast to the aforementioned Allannical parades, there are no ghost masks here, but rather colorful disguises.


Goodbye meat: the days before Lent

Christian Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. This has a purely religious meaning today, but historically it is the time when winter supplies ran out and you had to stretch supplies to get by until the first harvest of spring. Hence the word fast night, one speaks of fast night Tuesday and actually never of carnival Monday, in French "Mardi gras" - fat Tuesday as a transition to the coming meat / fat-free time. Another interpretation of carnival is carne-vale, goodbye meat.



Carnival in the Rhineland - Mainz remains Mainz as it sings and laughs

Why do people always talk about the Mainz Carnival? Mainz is the capital of the "political" or "literary" carnival, ie the meetings with lectures. You can see them on TV (the parades and balls too, of course, but that's less interesting) and is therefore often equated with carnival.

Mainz and the region on the left bank of the Rhine were conquered by France after the French Revolution and placed under French administration. French became the official language, French laws and jurisdiction applied. In the course of the revolution this had also brought civil rights, with a certain freedom of speech and an equality of citizens before the law. With the defeat of Napoleon this came to an end, and the old new masters wanted to reintroduce absolutism. In Mainz, by the way, the Austrians and Prussians were the military power, the city was a federal festival.

The Rhenish population, always a bit more open-minded due to the long history with many conquerors, found this less attractive. She ran through the streets and shouted "Rizambeau, barrel night is thu". (Rizambeau: either the Austrian commandant or, the French prefect Jeanbon St. André, there are both interpretations), and the melody is still available today as hum-ta-ta, hum-ta-ta. And the authorities were 'ripped off' by the bar and thread. For example, by having gardens march in uniforms and cardboard swords - the carnival guards of Mainz and Cologne wear the Austrian uniforms of the epoque (and others too). There was intense politicization in the inns. A prince was enthroned - but he had no power, he just had to pay for the wine. A council was formed, the Elfer Council. Installed a chief of protocol. The fools spoke. Up until the 1950s, all of this took place mainly in the inns, where sometimes the men, sometimes the women, sometimes the two of them met, swung speeches, criticized, mocked, ridiculed - that is the political carnival. In the meantime, due to lack of space, they have moved to the town halls and community centers, but the content has remained the same. Woe to the local politician who doesn't dare to appear - it would be best if he went to the Bütt himself. But he still gets his fat away.

And the politicians, who are sometimes not stupid, let themselves be, because the carnival turned out to be an important outlet. And since the early 19th century, this carnival has outlived absolutism, the emperor, the republic and even National Socialism.


Television carnival

What the television viewer now gets to see is on the one hand the world league of carnival, but only filtered, because the audience naturally has difficulties with the Rhineland language, and a joke about the roundabout in Gonsenheim hardly causes laughter in Unterhaching . The television session is also a matter of proportional representation, with numerous competing clubs having to come to an agreement with the television broadcaster. Only the fixed date on the Friday before Ash Wednesday means that the duration of these efforts does not correspond to that of the Israeli-Arab negotiations, because: Carnival is a serious matter, and none of those in charge will be trifled with!


Carnival in Cologne and Düsseldorf

If Mainz is the stronghold of the political carnival, Cologne is the second stronghold. There the carnival is much more shaped by the dance guards. The sessions are much more humorous and less political. In Mainz you clap, in Cologne you laugh. In Düsseldorf, partying is more in the foreground (but these comments are not from a neutral person ...)


Carnival - festival of the locals

In Bingen (7000 inhabitants) there are about seven carnival clubs or sections, the oldest is about 170 years old.

At the children's meeting in Kempten (perhaps 900 inhabitants), 100 children between the ages of three and fifteen (then they are considered to be carnivalist adults) appeared. The program lasted a little over three hours, 2/3 of which could have been in an adult session and perhaps 20% were on TV barrel night level.

In Weiler (approx. 1100 inhabitants) there are two carnival clubs, one with six ballet groups, the other certainly some as well. The active ones work on Carnival up to 10 months a year, this is especially true of the ballets, which train constantly.

Oh yes: a carnival area has a very high number of births in November!