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Basel Fasnacht – Switzerland celebrates Carnival
Monday 2 March 2020
Thursday 5th March 2020
- 1 Switzerland’s Biggest Carnival
- 2 Basel Fasnacht dates to Germanic Tribes
- 3 Basel Fasnacht occurs during Lent!
- 4 The Exactly 72 Hour Carnival!
- 5 When is Basel Fasnacht 2020?
- 6 Basel Fasnacht is a Local Affair!
- 7 Basel Fasnächtler – Basel Carnival Participants
- 8 The Three Finest Days of the Year!
- 9 Chienbäse
- 10 The Morgestraich
- 11 Laternenausstellung
- 12 Cortège
- 13 Confetti!!
- 14 Children’s Carnival
- 15 Guggenkonzert
- 16 Endstreich’ Basel
- 17 Basel Fasnacht 2020 Official Programme
Switzerland’s Biggest Carnival
In February you can feel Switzerland being overtaken by carnival fever and the normally very well-behaved Swiss people give into chaos and merriment!
Switzerland celebrates Fasnacht. What is Fasnacht? Fasnacht is an old cultural carnival celebration that occurs in several European countries. But the biggest and most popular Fasnacht celebration occurs in the Swiss city of Basel.
Basel Fasnacht is an annual three-day carnival celebration that attracts some 200,000 visitors. Basel Fasnacht is a fun event filled with lots of costumes, color, music, dance, tradition, comedy, drinking and eating.
Basel Fasnacht is recognised as being an element of intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO. This highlights its significance and importance.
Basel Fasnacht dates to Germanic Tribes
Basel Fasnacht’s oral origins date back to old Germanic tribes who used to perform pagan celebrations for the spring equinox. Over time Basel Fasnacht transformed into a Christian carnival celebration that was associated with the onset of Lent.
Basel Fasnacht occurs during Lent!
Why do Basel Fasnacht celebrations take place during Lent? Well no one is quite sure why Basel Fasnacht takes place one week later than most carnivals. Even the Fasnacht celebrations in the rest of Switzerland or Germany start a week earlier.
However, there is plenty of theories as to why this happens. First it is important to know that one of the most unique things about Basel Fasnacht is that it is the only Protestant carnival in the world!
Therefore, the main theory the celebrations were delayed so that the Protestant Church could distinguish itself from the Catholic Church. Also, to oppose the Catholic Church’s demand to give things up for Lent.
It is said to have first occurred back in 1520 when the town of Basel continued to celebrate their Fasnacht celebrations well after the other regions officially stopped for Lent. In 1529 the celebrations officially began one week.
The Exactly 72 Hour Carnival!
Basel Fasnacht runs for exactly 72 hours! No more, no less. Basel Fasnacht begins at precisely 4am on the Monday after Ash Wednesday and runs for exactly 72 hours.
When is Basel Fasnacht 2020?
2020 Basel Fasnacht will begin on Monday 2 March 2019 at 4am. Basel Fasnacht will end precisely at 4am on Thursday 5th March 2020.
Basel Fasnacht is a Local Affair!
Spectators can come and watch Basel Fasnacht, but it is an event put on for the locals, by the locals. Basel Fasnacht is often described as being one big family party.
About 20,000 Basel locals actively participate in Fasnächtler, which is the German name for carnival participants. These participants will dress up in traditional carnival costumes.
Unlike other Fasnacht celebrations that occur in nearby cities Basel Fasnacht features a clear and well-maintained separation between Basel Carnival participants and the spectators.
Everything is performed in the local German dialect. Most subjects that are made fun of are local events. So, its best if you have a local guide who can explain you the humour.
Basel Fasnächtler – Basel Carnival Participants
There are five major groups that participate in Basel Fasnacht. Most of these groups select a theme for Basel Fasnacht which is generally something that is related to recent world and local events. These events and social issues are then parodied during the celebrations and parades.
The different five groups of Basel Fasnacht participants are:
- The Cliques: These are Musicians who play the piccolo and Basler drums. They form groups and perform around the town and in the parades.
- Gugge Bands: These are marching brass bands that play They march in the parades and perform in the various Gugge concerts that occur on Tuesday night of Fasnacht.
- Schnitzelbank: These are singers that perform satirical songs about social issues or world events.
- Waggis: The people who ride on the carnival floats and throw oranges, sweets, flowers and copious amounts of confetti to the crowd
- Schyssdräggziigli are small groups of individuals that aren’t associated with any official They also wander through the streets playing music during carnival.
The Three Finest Days of the Year!
Basel Fasnacht runs for exactly three days. The locals refer to these days as the “drey scheenschte Dääg”, meaning the three finest days of the year. For three days all the bars and restaurants in Basel old town remain open.
And for those three days the entire population of Basel is swept up in the festivities. Basel transforms into a mix of color, chaos, costumes and comedy. At the end of 3-days the town turns back into its quiet charming self.
The Sunday night before Basel Fasnacht begins, many people go to the neighbouring town of Liestal for the Fire Parade. This parade is not for the faint hearted but it’s definitely one of the most incredible things to witness.
Participants walk through the town pulling carts full of burning pinewood chips. The bonfire flames reach the roofs of houses. This tradition dates to the Germanic Tribes who used to do this believing that it chased away the winter spirits and ushered in the spring.
Basel Fasnacht officially begins at exactly 4am with Morgenstreich, a pre-dawn ritual. All the lights in Basel’s Old Town are turned off and the only remaining lights come from the Cliques lanterns.
Hundreds of colourful lanterns fill the streets and shine through the dark creating a magical atmosphere. When the drum major gives the command “Morgestraich, vorwärts marsch!” which translates to “Morgestraich, march forward”, the Cliques begin to play music.
The Cliques also usher the people into restaurants and bars as well as engage with bystanders, exchanging witty dialogue.
The Fasnächtler participants are dressed head to toe in traditional carnival costumes. These costumes are meant to hide their identities and create a unique carnival atmosphere.
Basel Fashnact is also famous for being one of the best-known lantern festivals in the world. From Monday until Wednesday the incredible colorful and hand painted lanterns are on display in the Munsterplatz.
These lanterns are works of art that often display beautiful artworks or quotes. So be sure to check them out up close and personal, as well as from afar.
Two main parades are held during Basel Fasnacht called Corteges. They occur on the Monday and Wednesday of carnival starting at exactly 13:30.
The parades feature over 300 cliques and Gugge bands performing. They march through Basel in two different routes, bringing life to the city. Crowds trying to catch sweets, oranges and flowers which are handed out, and insane amounts of confetti is thrown.
In addition to the procession numerous bands and individuals perform and wander through Basel’s streets and alleys playing music and adding to the already lively atmosphere.
During Cortège, the Fasnächtler (carnival participants) throw an insane amount of confetti. The amount of confetti used during the Basel Fasnacht is way more than any other celebration, anywhere else in the world. The parade routes are often ankle deep in confetti after Cortege.
An interesting fact is that throwing confetti is something that originated in Basel. This tradition later spread to the rest of the world.
Tuesday day sees a parade for the families. No Cliques are allowed to participate in the Children and Family Fasnacht just parents with their kids.
Hundreds of children participate in this parade continuing the tradition for generations to come. It is a fun parade and the “Binggis” which is the name given to the children, wear whatever costumes they like.
On the Tuesday night the celebrations continue with numerous Gugge concerts. The typical Swiss Guggenmusik bands play in open-air spaces throughout Basel. The main concert occurs at the Basel Marktplatz and will draw an audience of thousands. It is also broadcast live on local TV.
Guggemusik Groups will also play music throughout Basel’s streets and alleys. They will stop somewhere and play a few tunes before moving onto the location. Some Guggemusik groups will play in cafés and restaurants serenading the guests.
Basel Fasnacht celebrations finish on Thursday morning exactly at 4am. The Cliques and Gugge Bands gather to put on one last musical show in an ancestral place. When the final march finishes it officially signals the end of Fasnacht in Basel until the next year.
Basel Fasnacht 2020 Official Programme
Here are the official dates for the key events that will occur in the 2019 Basel Fasnacht.
- 02.03.2020, 4 am
- 03.03.2020, 7.30 – 11 pm
- 02.03.2020 | 04.03.2020, 1.30 pm
- 05.03.2020, up to 04.00 am
Fasnacht is when the Swiss let loose and nowhere celebrates quite like the town of Basel!
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