Swiss Carnivals: Where to Watch the Largest Costumed Shows
Carnivals are often associated with the Brazilian festival in Rio de Janeiro, or the mystical show in Venice, Italy. Switzerland holds around 200 carnivals a year, which include spectacular actions, illumination festivals, and colorful costumed parades. Such events reflect the enormous cultural diversity of 26 cantons of the Confederation Helvetia.
Canton of Basel-Stadt
Basel Fasnacht, otherwise known as Carnival of Basel, is the largest and only Protestant carnival in the world. It attracts more than 200,000 visitors, is held annually between the months of February and March. The carnival starts on Monday following Ash Wednesday at precisely 4:00 AM, and lasts for 3 days.
The celebration, or Basel’s madness, begins with a bonfire. Afterwards, thousands of clowns, costumed drummers, and pipers march through the City Center. Musical masked groups known as ‘cliques’ play drums, piccolos, and other musical instruments. All of them carry different decorated lanterns. Guggenmusik is performed in groups with brass instruments that play traditional Carnival music, and the Schnitzelbank bards sing satirical verses about current events, whether they are in Basel or abroad.
The culmination is the Grand Parade, which is called the Cortege. This includes decorated floats (Waage) and carriages with costumed characters that throw flowers, sweets, and oranges to the crowd, as well as shower the spectators with confetti.
Participants of this celebratory event wear costumes and masks of famous people, including politicians and actors, as well as comic characters or animals. The most popular and traditional masks of this particular holiday are Napoleonic soldiers, harlequins, and Waggis.
Canton of Lucerne
Lucerne’s Carnival, otherwise known as the Lucerne Fasnacht, is the second biggest folk festival in Switzerland that occurs annually in either February or March. The Lucerne Fasnacht begins on “Dirty Thursday” with a Big Bang at 5 o’clock in the morning. This is called the Morgenwacht (Morning Watch), and continues for 6 days until Ash Wednesday.
The Lucerne Carnival opens with the Fritschi Parade, a big costumed spectacle consisting of costumed characters, marching bands, dance troupes, and street performers. This takes place in Lucerne’s Old Town from Luzernerhof to Waldstätterstrasse. The main site of this parade is the Fritschi family, which consists of an elderly man accompanied by his wife (Fritschene), and their Fritschi child (Fritschkind). They are symbolic characters that come from the 15th century, in which they represent one the oldest guilds in Lucerne, the Saffron Guild.
The Wey Parade starts on Fat Monday (4 March) at the Hotel Luzernerhof at 14:00. On Shrove Tuesday, the Monstercorso Parade takes place at the Bahnhofstrasse.