Next week marks the beginning of one of the biggest festivals in Lucerne: Fasnacht. The carnival is famous for its loud Guggenmusic, eccentric costumes, and people filling the streets to celebrate. You might be left wondering what it’s all about.
An overview of Fasnacht
Fasnacht is celebrated during three days in February: Schmützig Donnstig (Dirty Thursday), Güdis Montag and Güdis Dienstag (Fat Monday and Tuesday). The celebration is the last big event before the 40 days of Lent, and is meant to be as loud and scary as possible to frighten Winter away.
The celebrations begin on the Thursday morning at 5 a.m. when the Fritschi Father (the carnival father) and his wife arrive by boat to launch the party with an explosion of fireworks (Urknall) and confetti.
What follows are days of celebration steeped in various traditions and activities. Let’s take a look at what you can expect to see.
The Guggenmusic bands are the heart of Fasnacht. Made up of talented musicians who practice all year round, they pick a theme, make scary costumes and floats, and spend the duration of Fasnacht playing for the crowds. They usually take turns performing in the allocated spots all over town and you will undoubtedly encounter them making their way through the crowds, or having a well deserved drink in a café or restaurant before donning their heavy head gear and going out to play again.
There are parades planned on each day. If you are going to watch one a word of advice, make sure your feet are extra warm, you will end up standing outdoors watching over 40 floats go by, each with its own allocated Guggermusic band. Also be sure to bring a goodie bag as sweets, chocolates and fruits may very well fly your way!
The official parades are on Thursday and Monday afternoons. They begin close to the Hofkirche and stop at Bundesplatzt. They are also shown live on television on channel SF1.
For once if you want to blend in, you should dress up. The young adults usually go for something fairly basic resembling a long poncho made with rags, whilst more adventurous individuals might choose to wear something a bit more sophisticated. Wandering around the city offers plenty to see, but if you want a break and a bit of the action then head into a restaurant and wait for the action to come to you. Cabaret acts and smaller Guggenmusic bands will often drop in and sing/play for their drinks.
In the 15th century the Safran Guild (Zunft Zum Safran) was appointed to organise Fasnacht and keep the Fritschi customs alive. Every year the Safran Guild elects a new President who also represents the Fritschi Father and is considered the most important Luzerner by the locals. You recognise the guilds as their members are parading on horses, or in coaches and throwing oranges into the crowd during the parades.
You may also see some festival food in local shops, bakeries or cafes. We recommend trying Fasnachtchuechli – thin fried pancakes coated in powdered sugar. Or if you’re looking for something else sweet try some Schenkeli or Zigerchrapfen.