What is Masopust?
Masopust in the Czech Republic is the same as Shrovetide. These are both different names for what is called the Pre-Lenten carnival season. The period of merrymaking and feasting that occurs just before the onset of Christian Lent. Masopust is essentially translated to ‘farewell to meat’ in English.
Each year when winter turns into spring some unusual carnival celebrations occur in the Eastern Bohemian region of the Czech Republic. The celebrations are called ‘Masopustní průvod’ which translates to Shrovetide in English.
In the whole of the Czech Republic there are only a few villages in the Hlinecko Region of Eastern Bohemia that have preserved the authentic form of the early Masopust celebrations with the Masopust processions remaining unchanged for centuries.
When is Masopust / Shrovetide in the Czech Republic?
Like Easter the date of this carnival moves ever year. Masopust can happen any time between February 1st and March 7th. The 2021 Masopust dates begin on Friday 12th February 2021 and finish on Tuesday 16th February 2021.
Where is Hlinecko?
The Hlinecko Region is situated in Eastern Bohemia area of the Czech Republic. The region sits on the Bohemian-Moravian border and borders Poland in the north. The region is about a two-hour drive east of Prague. The region is surrounded by snow covered landscapes that provide an amazing contrast against the incredible diversity of colourful costumes.
The Hlinecko Shrovetide processions or Masopust Hlinecko are an amazing spectacle for the whole family. These Masopust Shrovetide celebrations take place in the town of Hlinsko and a few neighbouring historical villages in the Hlinecko region including Vortová, Studnice, Hamry and Blatno.
Masopust UNESCO Significance
Masopust Celebrations occur all over the Czech Republic, but it is only the Shrovetide celebrations that occur in Hlinecko region that have been recognised by UNESCO and added to the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
This list is an honour for any cultural tradition to be included on because it confirms the uniqueness and significance of Masopust and protects its future.
What is the history of Shrovetide in the Czech Republic?
What are the origins of Shrovetide in the Czech Republic? The history of Shrovetide in the Czech Republic goes far back into the past, several hundred years back.
The origins of Shrovetide were originally pagan celebrations that pre-dated Christianity in Europe and occurred at the end of winter to welcome in the spring and ensure a rich harvest.
The Hlinecko Shrovetide celebrations were banned by the Catholic Church and again by the socialist government but fortunately the traditions were passed down through the generations and Masopust survived against all odds.
How do they celebrate in the Hlinecko Shrovetide?
Shrovetide in Hlinecko is unique because it is not celebrated in the traditional way. Instead of having a street procession that marches along a parade route, the processions instead goes from door to door around the whole village.
The highlights of this door-to-door Shrovetide procession include ritual dances, the wearing of masks, the consumption of Koblihy, a deep-fried Czech donut, and some incredibly bizarre headdresses.
Masopust Door to Door Procession
The village men and boys disguise themselves in traditional carnival masks that represent the traditional Masopust carnival characters. The boys will wear red masks and the married men wear black masks.
These masks date back to their pagan roots and symbolise spring and fertility. These Masopust Masks won’t feature at any other Shrovetide celebration in the Czech Republic.
The Hlinecko Shrovetide processions have a set of clear rules and the processions occur in a strict order with a fixed number of Masopust masks being worn. The processions are always led by a mare and end with a knacker.
Participants in the Masopust procession will travel from house to house delivering joy and prosperity to all they visit. At each house four men will stop and perform a ritualistic dance for the home owners with permission and this is performed to guarantee a prosperous harvest for the family and the men are paid for this blessing with sweets.
They continue to travel door to door singing and tasting traditional treats until they reach the last house where the Masopust procession finishes and a symbolic ritual which will occur inside the house.
The Killing and Resurrection of the Mare
The symbolic ritual is called ‘Killing and Resurrection of the Mare’ and it was a believed myth that performing this ushered out winter and brought in Spring. During the ritual a mare is condemned for all its sins and a satirical testament is read out.
It is decided that the mare is to be ‘executed’ only to be later ‘brought back to life’ with alcohol which kicks off the start of a traditional ritualistic dance where the masked participants frolic with onlookers.
Masopust Broom Procession
The ladies also play a role in the Masopust Shrovetide celebrations using brooms to ‘sweep away the bad spirits’ and welcome in the spring.
There is also a husband’s ball for married persons only and it was believed that the height a farmer’s wife jumped when dancing is the height the grain would grow in the following harvest.
Meat, sweets and lots of alcohol!
Masopust is the last chance before Lent to eat and drink a lot! There are many occasions during this period for jovial drinking and eating in the run up to pre-Lenten fast. Many delicious Czech cuisines are made for Masopust feasting like the Masopust donuts which are delicious pastries fried in fat. Eating pork is another tradition and is usually eaten in a Masopust casserole.
What the wear to Masopust?
When it comes to Masopust you will see lots of people wearing costumes and masks. For the locals they will generally dress up in the traditional carnival characters which are often mythical creatures. But the general rule is the more colourful your outfit the better.
There are some folkloric characters that frequently make an appearance in Masopust. The main characters you will see walking around Masopust includes the turk, the little wife, a straw man, a Jew, a bear, the chimney sweep, a master of ceremonies and the knacker and a mare.
How to get to the Hlinecko Region?
The closest airport to Hlinsko is Pardubice (PED) is about 29 kms away. Of course you could always fly to Prague to Václav Havel Airport Prague. It is about 150 km away and takes about two hours to reach by car, train or bus.
Where to stay in the Hlinecko Region?
You can check out some accommodation options here.
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