I wish you could lean through the computer into my home right now. Even with windows tightly shut, the rhythms of Fasching wiggle their way in: the deep booming bass of passing cars, the thumping of costumers preparing their floats, and the jingles of the bells laced to animal-skin pants and shirts and hats.
There is excitement in the air. Storefront windows have been exhibiting the various Fasching masks for weeks. Clothing (outer and inner) and fabric shrouds have hung from lines in the BlumenPlatz (our main town square) and woven across our downtown road for even longer.
Think Mardi Gras.
So what is Fasching (AKA Fastnacht)? According to Wikipedia,
The carnival session, also known as the “Fifth Season”, begins each year on 11 November at 11:11 a.m. and finishes on Ash Wednesday of the following year with the main festivities happening around Rosenmontag. The “Swabian-Alemannic” carnival is known as Fastnacht, where Fast(en)-Nacht means the eve of the Fastenzeit (lent). This celebration begins on January 6 (Epiphany/Three Kings Day). The festival starts on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday… In particular regions of Tyrol, Salzburg and Bavaria traditional processions of the Perchten welcome the springtime. The Schönperchten (“beautiful Perchts”) represent the birth of new life in the awakening nature, the Schiachperchten (“ugly Perchts”) represent the dark spirits of wintertime. The nights between winter and spring, when evil ghosts are supposed to go around, are also called Rauhnächte.
Last Thursday, Hannah and her Kindergarten classmates all dressed in white nightgowns (or something close enough to represent that). They marched with their teachers to the town hall where the mayor “gave them the keys to the city” or, at the very least, some yummy treats representing the keys. This annual tradition marks the beginning of a set time when the children are left to care for the city while the adults leave their charge and live without rules. The next day the kids all dressed up in costumes (like Halloween). Over the last few days we’ve seen dinosaurs, witches, and princesses walking the streets, shopping with parents, and riding their scooters in costume.
People have from Thursday until Ash Wednesday to, essentially, have a bubble of time outside of their normal rule-following lives to do as they wish. They can spouse swap (and some do), kiss whomever they’d like, and whatever else your imagination can conjure. This is supposed to go without bearing any consequence in life-after-fasching, but it does.
There is also a dealing with spirits. A parade today (and Monday) will welcome Spring (and some super early marching bands will make sure Spring and all of Kandern is awake). But as one welcomes Spring, one must also kick out Winter, and all of the associated spirits that Winter ushers in. There will be fire-throwing and the borders of the city, into the forest, to scare the spirits back into their slumber.
Rosenmontag – The largest and most popular carnival parades take place on the Monday before Ash Wednesday (that’s this Monday). These parades come mostly from the Rhineland region. People throughout the German-speaking countries will tune in to watch the biggest German carnival parade of all which is held in Cologne.
Fastnachtsdienstag – Besides some parades which are held on this day, you have the burial or burning of the Nubbel. A Nubbel is a life-size 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 till Ash Wednesday arrives.
Just as is the case with Halloween, there are a variety of ways to celebrate and associate meaning to Fasching. Some families choose not to celebrate it at all. Others choose the less risque forms and celebrate with traditional beer and brats, watching the parades, dressing up in fun costumes, and having a family party with polka dancing and feasting. Others take full advantage of the pre-Lenten opportunities offered. And still others, especially in our region, associate each action with the spiritual meaning attached to it. As the balls of fire fly into the forest, they really intend evil spirits to be shooed away.
Here is a GREAT post from a local woman who took pictures of Kandern’s Fastnacht celebrations last year. I didn’t want to repost each picture she took (and don’t have permission to) but thought I’d send you over instead. It will give you a sense of what the costumes look like, at the very least.
So how do we respond? For one, we are all constantly aware of the spiritual dimension to this holiday. Many of our children or own selves have nightmares or vivid dreams during this time- a reminder that much goes on that our human eyes can’t see. And this draws us to prayer.
We pray for each person to make wise choices, to be conscientious about how their actions affect their families, friends, and community. We pray for safety for everyone. And, of course, we pray that all would come to know the saving grace and freedom that Jesus offers… that we don’t have to revel in sin to prepare for forgiveness and mercy… to get in all the “fun” before the boring stuff starts. Oh, that people would know how much FUN Jesus is!
Another great response is Kindertag. This six hour event invites children from the community to get away from the craziness (and scaryness) of the holiday and have fun in a safe place. It is hosted by our mission, TeachBeyond/Jantz Team. It is an outreach to German families where we gather their young ones and shield them from the chaos around them- while showing them the love of Jesus.
Will you join us in praying during these next days? Pray, not just for our community of Kandern, but for the large chunks of Europe (and South America) who enter into this celebration. Praying for the saving knowledge of Jesus to break through the Carnival atmosphere. And pray for Kindertag (this Monday) to be a great witness and gift to our community.