Fasching 2022: History, Significance and Celebrations

Fasching is the Roman Catholic Shrovetide carnival as celebrated in German-speaking countries. It is known as Fasching in Bavaria and Austria, also known as ‘Karneval’ or ‘Fastnacht,’ depending on the region in which it is celebrated. 

It begins at exactly 11 minutes after 11 a.m on November 11 and ends on Ash Wednesday. It’s a season that marks festivities that take place in Germany and other German-speaking countries before Lent, the 40-day fasting period. 

The festival has been around for hundreds of years and can be traced all the way back to the 13th Century. Fasching is observed in different ways in different countries. 

Event Fasching
Date November 11, 2022
Day Friday
Significance Fasching is a Roman Catholic Shrovetide carnival held in German-speaking countries
Observed by German-speaking countries

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Fasching History: 

Fasching can be traced back into pagan times. It started as an event to drive out the winter and the ghosts of darkness who had begun to lose their powers as the sun started to warm up in springtime. Rituals in these areas include processions where people generate lots of noise and masquerade with horrifying face masks in order to scare away the ghosts of winter and at the same time avoid their revenge. It was also a festival to honour the Goddess Freya and to celebrate fertility with the beginning of spring. Early missionaries tried to shift the meaning of this celebration to a more Christian ritual, and so the Carnival came to mark the beginning of Lent – a time of reflection and abstinence which lasts until Easter where people would abstain from eating meat, eggs or milk. 

The days before Lent would be the last opportunity to eat these foods for forty days and therefore a great excuse for parties and feasts. This is the origin of the alias name Karneval as it is derived from Latin carne vale, meaning ‘farewell to meat’. In the Middle Ages, this command was not too difficult to follow because food stocks usually were expended by this time of year, and it was a good idea to consume the remaining stocks which would most likely start to rot in the following weeks. Another tradition is Starkbier (stout). This is a very potent beer brewed by the monks at this time for use during Lent when they were not allowed to eat. They made up for the calories by drinking this darker, richer beer.

Many people often wonder why monks – of all people – were allowed to drink such strong beer during their fasts. As the legend goes, they originally transported the beer over the Alps to distant Rome in order to convince the “Holy Father” of its suitability for fasting. When they eventually reached the Pope, however, it had turned sour and was undrinkable. The Pope had no qualms, therefore, about permitting the monks to use the beer as liquid sustenance during Lent. Officially the Carnival season, also known as the “Fifth Season”, begins at 11:11 am on November 11th. With people’s attention taken by Advent and Christmas, there isn’t much in the way of Carnival activities taking place until we get to the week before Ash Wednesday.

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Although the exact historical origins of Fasching are unclear, the observance of its rites is mentioned in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival (early 13th century). It was a festival that originated in the cities most notably of Mainz and Speyer and was already established in Cologne by 1234. Traditionally, it was not only a feast before Lent but also a time during which the rules and order of daily life were subverted. This gave rise to such customs as handing over the keys of the city to a council of fools or ceremoniously letting women rule. It also inspired noisy costumed parades and masked balls; satirical and often impertinent plays, speeches, and newspaper columns; and generally excessive behaviour, all of which are still common elements of contemporary Fasching celebrations.  

In Germany, particularly in the Rhineland area, the tradition can be traced to medieval times where many countries existed under harsh rules. Kings, princes and even smaller potentates maintained their own courts. In doing so, they flaunted before each other their own pomp and splendor at the expense of their population. During karneval time, the common people took a chance at ‘living it up” and “talking back to their rulers”. They would make a mock government of eleven people, as well as other officials. A price and princess were selected to rule the country during the Fasching season. Political authorities, high placed persons and sovereigns were the target of ridicule, and featured in humorous and satirical speeches. To avoid persecution and punishment, these antics were played out from behind masks and costumes. Parades, dancing in the streets, masquerade balls and comical skits filled the days and nights. 

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Fasching Significance: 

Fasching is the Roman Catholic Shrovetide carnival as celebrated in German-speaking countries. There are many regional differences concerning the name, duration, and activities of the carnival. It is known as Fasching in Bavaria and Austria, Fosnat in Franconia, Fasnet in Swabia, Fastnacht in Mainz and its environs, and Karneval in Cologne and the Rhineland. Fasching starts on the 11th day of November at exactly 11minutes after 11am and ends at the stroke of midnight on Shroud Tuesday – often referred to as Fat Tuesday (the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday). Fasching is more or less a Roman Catholic and Christian Orthodox celebration and most Protestant and non-Christian areas do not celebrate it.

Fasching celebrations stem from various beliefs and traditions. For Catholics, it provided a festive season of food and fun before the Lenten fasting period began. During the late medieval times, plays were performed during the Lenten period called Fastnachtspiele. In pre-Christian times, Carnival celebrations symbolized the driving out of winter and all of its evil spirits. Hence the masks, to “scare away” these spirits. The Carnival celebrations in southern Germany and Switzerland reflect these traditions. Overall we can say that it is nice time to have fun celebrations. 

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Furthermore, we have Carnival traditions that can be traced back to historical events. After the French Revolution, the French took over Rhineland. Out of protest against French oppression, Germans from Cologne and surrounding areas would mock their politicians and leaders safely behind masks during Carnival season. Even today, caricatures of politicians and other personalities can be seen boldly portrayed on floats in the parades. So this day also has a important historical background with lots of symbolism behind it.  

‘Fasching’ gives people a chance to take a break from daily commitments and relax. It’s a time to get together with friends, spend time with family and celebrate in the community. The celebrations of ‘Fasching’ bring people from all over the world together. As people celebrate, divisions disappear. So it is also a kind of a day which fosters unity with deep pagan and Catholic roots. Overall it is a time of celebrations to have with family and friends with various fun traditions happening on the day like the activities of  noisy parades, plays, masked balls, satirical plays, and excessive or impertinent behavior.  

‘Fasching’ also helps to promote tourism and provides a great source of revenue for businesses during that period. It gives a boost to businesses such as hotels, restaurants, and transport services and plays a key role in generating employment in the region in which it takes place and carnivals on this day takes place all over the world. Although Carnival in Rio is probably the craziest of all, Germany is undoubtedly the most enthusiastic Karneval center in Europe. Nearly every town has its own festivities and it is celebrated in homes across the country with great enthusiasm. The Karnevals vary from area to area, but no matter where the celebrations are held, there is fun, happiness and laughter. 

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Fasching Celebrations: 

Soon after Fasching season opens, a mock government of eleven guilds (Zünfte) is elected, along with a Carnival prince and princess, who basically plan the carnival festivities. Parties, clebrations, and parades are the big part of this carnival. People celebrate in costume at various Carnival community events and individual parties. Carnival parades abound. It is the weekend for people to live it up. 

The first day is Weiberfastnacht and this is mainly an event held in the Rhineland on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday. The day begins with women storming into and symbolically taking over city hall. Then, women throughout the day snip off men’s ties and kiss any man who passes their way. The day ends with people going to local venues and bars in costume. 

Rose Monday is another day of the festival where a four-mile parade is held, with members of local carnival clubs dressing up as witches, clowns, or wizards. This is the largest and most popular Carnival parade during the celebrations. People throughout the German-speaking countries will tune in to watch the biggest German Carnival parade of all, which is held in Cologne. 

On the day of Fastnachtsdienstag, some parades that are held on this day and then you have the burial or burning of the Nubbel. A Nubbel is a life-sized doll made of straw that embodies all of the sins committed during Carnival season. It is buried or burned with great ceremony on Tuesday evening before everyone parties one more time until Ash Wednesday arrives. 

The height of the Fasching celebrations is called Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday. In Germany, the day is celebrated on a small scale but in other parts of the world, the day is spent spectacularly as people attend and take part in parades in cities such as Venice, Rio de Janeiro, and New Orleans. On Ash Wednesday, the festival comes to an end and the 40-day fasting season begins. 

Most Searched FAQs on Fasching: 

1. When is Fasching celebrated? 

Fasching is annually celebration begins on at exactly 11 minutes after 11 a.m. on 11th November and end on Ash Wednesday. 

2. Is Fasching a public holiday? 

In some areas of Germany, entire cities shut down during the last four to five days of ‘Fasching’ to allow for celebrations. Though it’s not a public holiday, business and office activities might change because of the festivities. 

3. Can non-Catholics celebrate Fasching? 

Of course. Fasching celebrations encompass all people, no matter their religious beliefs.

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