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Fasching Masks: A Tradition of Germany's Pre-Lenten Season

Updated on February 03, 2017
Fasching Mask
Fasching Mask | Source

Just when we think that old man winter will never loosen his grip, the time of year when people all over the world join in pre-lenten festivities arrives. Predominantly found in areas with large Catholic populations, this time of year goes by many different names, like Mardi Gras and Carnival. All fundamentally celebrate the same thing, the days leading up to Lent. Observed by most Christian Denominations, Lent is defined as the 40 day period before Easter of penitence and fasting for the believer.

In Germany, Austria and Switzerland, pre-lenten festivities are known as Fasching, Fastnacht or Karneval, depending on the region. While each area has it's own traditions and rituals, Fasching is primarily celebrated in Southwest Germany.

One of the constants in every celebration in Germany, as well as those around the world, is that masks are worn. The carved wooden masks in Southern Germany are especially notable because of their craftsmanship and long history.

Fasching Parade
Fasching Parade | Source

Fasching and Masks

While Fasching is a celebration of the days leading up to Lent, its roots can be traced back to pagan times. Carnivals were held with townspeople wearing elaborate and frightening wooden masks to drive out the evil spirits that had settled in the town over the cold dreary winter. Once the spirits had been scared away, the hope was that warmer weather and healthy crops would soon appear.

During medieval times, common folk wore the masks so they could interact with people from higher stations in life during the celebrations. At the same time, commoners could also dress up like, and make fun of the nobility, all while hiding behind the elaborate masks. They could openly mock the politicians and leaders of the town without fear of retribution. This practice so annoyed some nobility that for a short time in the late 1700s the celebrations were banned. This is when the traditions of balls and parties began.

Fasching Masks
Fasching Masks | Source

Traditional Fasching Greetings

Greeting
Narri! Narro!
Hajo!
Helau!
Alaaf!
Woesinge Ahoi!
Every town has its own Fasching greeting and it can be heard morning, noon or night. These are the greetings.
Fasching Masks
Fasching Masks | Source

Fasching Today

Today, Fasching is five days filled with revelry. It begins on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday. This first day is dedicated to the ladies. Women walk around town, mocking leaders and playing jokes on people. They even snip the bottom off of men's ties. Local clubs host parades throughout the weekend and parties every evening.

The big parade is on Rosenmontag (Rose Monday). With shouts of Narri Narro or another traditional parade greeting, groups of masked participants parade down the streets. Witches circle around people and throw them in the air. Fools walk by ringing bells and dressed in their town colors while knocking people's hats off or dancing around an unsuspecting spectator. Hansels walk by with huge pretzels on sticks and if someone is lucky, they get one. Floats go by, bands play loudly and candy is handed out at every turn. Some events include speakers mocking public figures. Fasching, like Mardi Gras and Carnival, is a raucous fun-filled event.

And, as it has always been done, all of this fun and mischief goes on behind the facade of masks. Every town has its own witch, fool and hansel. Harkening back to pagan customs, there are frightening goats head masks with demonic horns. Witch masks have evil eyes an warts of all shapes and sizes. Some masks are happier and not at all frightening.

Exquisitely carved out of wood, some of these masks are quite old and have been handed down from generation to generation. Unlike the delicate masks of New Orlean's Mardi Gras or Venice's Carnival, these masks can be quite heavy, weighing up to 20 pounds.

Even though it is a cold time of the year, it's definitely a fun time to visit the area, although make reservations in advance. Some of the towns with big, well-known parades are pretty full during Fasching. And if you are lucky enough to be in Germany during this season, try to go to some of the smaller town festivities. It's easier to see the parade and it's not quite as crowded. It is also a little bit more like it used to be.

Fasching masks are an integral and fascinating part of Southern German tradition and make pre-lenten festivities that much more intriguing.

Narri! Narro!

Fasching Parade Participants
Fasching Parade Participants | Source

© 2012 Glimmer Twin Fan

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    • ThoughtSandwiches profile image

      ThoughtSandwiches 4 years ago from Reno, Nevada

      Glimmer Twin Fan,

      Those masks are simply amazing! I wonder what it would be like to be wearing a 20-pound wooden mask on your face while imbibing of the local breweries? Thank yo for introducing this awesome culture to me!

      Thomas

    • tammyswallow profile image

      Tammy 4 years ago from North Carolina

      These are so unique and so terrifying at the same time. I didn't know about this German tradition. Awesome hub!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
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      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      Thomas - Thanks so much for the visit! I'm glad you liked the hub. I bet it gets harder and harder to wear those masks as the day goes on!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
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      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      tammyswallow - Many thanks for your comments! They really are interesting and not nearly as well known as other pre-lenten festivals.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm trying to figure out why I knew nothing about this....what rock have I been living under all these years? Great hub; very interesting and informative. Thanks for teaching the teacher!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
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      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      Thanks so much Bill! I'm glad you liked it and learned something new. I think it gets overshadowed by Mardi Gras and the Venice Carnival which is why not as many people are familiar with it. If you ever get a chance to go to Germany, go during Fasching. It's a blast!

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Well this was different, Different and interesting. thank you

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
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      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      Thanks Mhatter.

    • travmaj profile image

      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      I love reading about these traditions and hadn't heard about this one. Thanks - fascinating reading.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
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      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      Thanks so much travmaj! I'm glad you enjoyed it and learned something new. The masks really are a sight to behold when coming down the street.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 4 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      This hub is great...very informative. The masks are amazing....unbelievable works of ART! Also.....the stuff nightmares are made of !! lol. I can't imagine hanging some of these on my walls.......Scare my grandchildren!! BOO!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
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      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      Thanks so much fpherj48! I've always had these on my walls and my daughter loves playing with them (gently). They are amazing pieces and some are really scary. Some are pretty cute though and they aren't as scary when they are not on someone. Glad you enjoyed the hub.

    • mollymeadows profile image

      Mary Strain 4 years ago from The Shire

      GTF, these remind me of face jugs here in the Southern U.S. They're funny/grotesque works of folk art, probably with roots in European traditions like Fasching. I loved these, especially the ones that look like trolls -- thanks for sharing them!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
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      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      Thanks mollymeadows! I've seen those face jugs and they can be grotesque. Maybe they do have roots from Fasching, maybe from immigrants bringing traditions over. I'm glad you liked the hub.

    • ChristyWrites profile image

      Christy Birmingham 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Neat to read about Fasching here. I really didn't know anything about it before reading your hub. 5 days of celebrations. I vote up and useful too.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
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      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      I'm glad you enjoyed it ChristyWrites. Compared to Mardi Gras and Carnival, this is relatively unknown. Thanks for the comment and votes!

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker suzettetaos 4 years ago from Taos, NM

      I celebrated Fasching one year in Switzerland. We were in a small ski village that I can't remember the name of now - it was 25 or 30 years ago. It was great fun but they didn't have the wooden masks as in S. Germany. This hub was so interesting and fascinating for me. I lived in Wurzburg, Germany and worked as a teacher for the military children. Thanks for an informative article!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
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      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      I'm so glad you enjoyed this hub and that you know about Fasching. It seems to get lost behind Mardi Gras and Carnival. I also find it fascinating that the masks are such a local tradition to certain areas. Thanks for your nice comments Suzette!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

      This was amazing, and so interesting! I hadn't heard of this festival before, call Fasching, but as I looked at some of the face masks they reminded me of Punch and Judy faces, I think they started out in Germany too, great hub! nell

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
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      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      Thanks so much for the nice comments Nell! I never thought about a Punch and Judy resemblance, but you're right, I can see it now. Glad you enjoyed the hub.

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 4 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      I remember learning about these festivals during my high school days and taking German classes to make my German grandfather happy. :) It was a lot of fun to learn about and your wonderful hub brought back some great memories. Thank you, Glimmer! :)

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
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      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      I'm so glad this brought back happy memories for you. It does for me too as my Mother is German. Unfortunately my German is rusty now, but I can still understand a bit. Can you still speak some? Thanks for the comments!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Thanks for introducing us to the tradition in southern Germany prior to Lent called Fasching. Those masks are amazing! I guess it is similar to Carnival held in New Orleans, Galveston and other places but with a slightly different twist. Up, useful and interesting votes.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
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      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      Thanks Peggy W! It's definitely similar to the other celebrations, but it has it's own flair. I appreciate the votes.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 4 years ago from North Texas

      Interesting custom and information. I have never heard of this before. Twenty pounds of wooden mask must get heavy to wear for very long. Hubpages is certainly a great place to learn about new things. You have some really great photos here too!

      Up and interesting and will share with my followers!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
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      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      Many thanks Au fait. It really is a fun and interesting tradition that a lot of people don't know about.

    • kidscrafts profile image

      kidscrafts 4 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      I love those masks! I didn't know the tradition and I was practically living next door (in Belgium) for a long time! But when I think of it, it doesn't surprise me because there is a long tradition of celebrating Mardi Gras in Europe and in Belgium. In Belgium there are the "Gilles de Binche" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnival_of_Binche). In the wikipedia picture they wear masks but you can see them also with big hats made of ostrich feathers.

      In Italy, they also have a long tradition with masks and they are totally different.

      Thank you for making me discover those masks!

      Voted up and interesting!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
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      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      Thank you kidscrafts! I'm glad you enjoyed the hub. Fasching is just around the corner so I'll have to pull my masks out to look at. It is interesting how the different European countries celebrate that season.

    • kidscrafts profile image

      kidscrafts 4 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      Did you had a chance to be in Germany around that time yourself? It must be quite interesting to be there at Mardi Gras. I must confess I never went to see the "Gilles de Binche" in Belgium even when I lived there. Sometimes when things are close you take them for granted :-(

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
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      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      I have been fortunate to visit during Fasching. It is loads of fun!!

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 3 years ago from sunny Florida

      This is so interesting, Glimmer Twin Fan. I have never heard of this before..where have I been?

      Finding out the story associated with it was what kept me reading. Thanks for sharing the details.

      The masks are definitely unique and one hanging on a living room wall would surely spark conversation.

      Sending Angels your way...have a lovely weekend. :) ps

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
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      Glimmer Twin Fan 3 years ago

      Sorry it's taken so long to reply ps. Thanks for reading the hub. I have been busy dealing with an ill parent. Need those angels right about now.

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      duncan 3 years ago

      im doing a project on this

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
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      Glimmer Twin Fan 3 years ago

      Hope my article helps duncan.

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      Norbert 9 months ago

      I first experienced Fasching in 1974, I was 20 years old and absolutely LOVED it. I stayed with relatives then. I celebrated it in Black Forest; Donaueschingen, Huefingen and Braenlingen. The next time I was back, was in 2000, when I was on leave from the army and traveled to Germany courtesy of the Canadian military. Again I had some very unique experiences. There is a craftsman in Huefingen who hand carves these masks by hand.... wonderful representations!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
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      Glimmer Twin Fan 6 months ago

      Fasching is such a fun event and I'd love to go again. Sounds like you had some great opportunities.

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