Fasnacht is nearly upon us, and by now you must have noticed the masks and costumes filling the shop windows and the beat of Guggenmusic coming over the sound system of most shops. If you’ve been here for a while, you know the drill: every year right before Lent the whole of Luzern lets its hair down for a new Fasnacht. If your new to the city, then you are in for one hell of a ride! There are many famous carnivals around the world, including Basel. But none come anywhere near the calculated chaos and grittiness of Luzern’s Fasnacht. The beginner’s guide to Fasnacht details all the basic facts, that we feel you need to know about this incredible festival!
The Beginner’s Guide to Fasnacht
What is Fasnacht?
Based on the dates for the Catholic Mardi-Gras, Fasnacht is celebrated during three days, Schmützig Donnstig (Dirty Thursday), Güdis Montag and Güdis Dienstag (Fat Monday and Tuesday), the last two days usually blurring into one extra long day. This celebration is the last big party before the 40 days of Lent and is meant to be as loud and scary as possible in order to frighten Winter away.
The celebrations begin on the Thursday morning (this year on February 20th) at 5 a.m. when the Fritschi Father, the carnival father and his wife launch the party with a big bang (literally, a canon will be going off), confetti and lots of oranges will be thrown into the crowd; presumably to offer everyone plenty of vitamin C to survive the rest of the festivities.
What can I expect from Fasnacht?
You should expect to hear lots of Guggenmusic bands all over the city, and music at all hours of the day. Be prepared to stand out of their way should you meet them on any streets, as the tradition is to stand by and let the bands do what they do best. Parades will take place every day during the festival, with the official ones on Thursday and Monday. Don’t forget to bring your camera, as you will want to capture some of the incredible costumes and floats that are created.
The Guggenmusic bands are the heart of Fasnacht. Made of, usually, talented musicians who practice all year round, they pick a theme, make magnificently scary costumes and floats and spend the whole duration of Fasnacht playing their socks off, just ever so slightly out of tune. They usually take turns performing in the allocated spots all over town and you will undoubtedly encounter them fraying 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.
Can I join in?
Absolutely! This is a time when everyone is encouraged to take part. If you want to blend in, you should dress up though. Many Fasnachtler’s have been planning their costumes over a year. Now we’re not asking you to spend the next while making costumes day and night, but any bit of dress up will be appreciated. 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. The Wilden Mann is a particularly good address to get an eye and earful.
The more gentrified crowd may choose to go to one of the main hotels masked balls, this is also where you will find a lot of the guilds members.
I’ve heard people talking about the Guilds, who are they?
In the 15th century the Safran Guild (Zunft Zum Safran) was appointed to organise Fasnacht and keep the Fritschi customs alive, other guilds have since joined to help. 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 can recognise the guilds, as their members are parading on horses, or in coaches and throwing oranges into the crowd during the parades.
So make sure you put the dates in your calendar, this is not an event you will want (or even can) miss. In the next few weeks, we’ll be providing you with a round up of the events taking place during the festival and also some tips to surviving Fasnacht. Make sure to keep an eye on our website for these! In the meantime if you’re looking for a brief history of Fasnacht then check out the tourism office website. While the official Fasnacht website has all the events and dates for Fasnacht revelling.