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Germany loves to celebrate, any excuse to eat, drink and enjoy times with friends. It is no surprise then, that they have a whole season dedicated to festivities; carnival (or the 5th season). Carnival begins on the 11th of November at exactly 11 minutes and 11 seconds past 11am. While the reason behind this timing is not recorded, it is widely believed that eleven is an unlucky number. The carnival season is to ward off bad luck during the dark winter months.
Carnival is an unusual season, as it encompasses many different festivals all over Germany during winter, put pauses for the Christmas season. However the most unique festival during this season is the final festival – The Black Forest Festival. A week long celebration beginning the Thursday before Lent (11th-16th February in 2021)
Like most celebrations, the history stems back from medieval times, where weather, food and religion controlled much of day-to-day life. The carnival season is the lead up to Lent, a 40 day reflection where no festivities are celebrated and fasting is encouraged. The festival is the final hurrah of the season, as the winter is ending. Where before modern-day food storage was available, people would consume the last of their perishable foods as the fasting season started.
Festivities such as these were commonplace, but what set the Black Forest Festival apart was the introduction of the evil spirits, and the parades to banish such spirits from the Germans lives.
It is not known exactly when or why the figures of evil witches, beasts and even jesters started appearing. Some believe it was the combination of the joy of the festival and the disappointment in the fasting to come, which created a rift. Others believe it was to cast aside the winter cold and darkness away as the season ended. The religious side shows the difference between the temptations of sins, gluttony, and the fasting of Lent to thank Jesus for his suffering.
This may be why that every province has different figures and costumes that appear. However, it is not uncommon for evil spirits to find themselves in German traditions.
You can read more on our blog about Nutcrackers and how they supposably are wards against evil in the home.
Also known as Fastnacht, Weiberfastnacht or Swabian-Alemannic carnival in different parts of the country, the name is not only difference in the festival throughout Germany, each city or province that celebrates Fastnacht has different customs and traditions.
Areas of northern Germany or outside of the Black Forest region celebrate Fastnacht with the usual drinking, eating and dancing, which can last all throughout the nights. The closer to the Black Forest and Bavarian area you get, the more customs are integrated into the festival.
Street parties and parades make up most of the celebrations, with all restaurants and pubs open 24 hours during the whole week. Children and adults alike do not attend school or work during this week.
Parades are made up of mostly people dressed in elaborate costumes, traditional hand carved and painted wooden masks are passed down the family for generations and worn in groups. Witches, demons, spirits, and scary bear like animals are common sights. Most costumes are adorned with bells, whips, and balloons to make noise to “scare away” evil spirits.
The town of Rottweil is said to be one of the best parades to witness, with over 4000 dancing jesters and a traditional devil character. While the village of Waldkirch has a Witch Parade (Hexensabbat) that is completed with bonfires and witches on broomsticks.
An unusual tradition in Schramberg has these characters, not parading but swiftly rushing down a river in wooden bathtubs.
Beuel are the founders of the separate custom of women cutting men’s neck ties (if they are silly enough to wear one during the festival) and stealing them with a kiss on the cheek. This tradition comes from the washer women who never could participate in the festivities because they spent their time washing the costumes of the revellers and destroyed clothes in protest.
Bonfires, burning ceremonies and parades of up to 80,000 people are common during the festival. The mix of music, costumes, drinking, and feasting is a sight to behold.
The Black Forest Festival is celebrated in most major cities, however to experience the real joy of the festival, it is worth visiting the Black Forest area and enjoying each unique tradition to the region.