Tschäggättä Masks

It’s Tschäggättä time again!  Last year, we went to see the Tschäggättä parade in Switzerland’s Lötschental Valley during Carnival/Fasnacht.  The costumes and the masks amazed us in particular.

Until the 1900’s, only the valley’s inhabitants knew Lötschental’s masks.  Over the next four decades, Tschäggättä masks gained recognition as works of art and a unique cultural heritage.  After WWII, with recognition, the Lötschental Valley’s increased contact with the world, and greater demand, there was a golden age of Tschäggättä masks.

Tschäggättä masks are instantly recognizable.  Their distinguishing features include:

  • Large, smiling mouths, either with carved wooden teeth, or toothless (sometimes they have animal teeth
  • The mouth is either s-shaped, curved up or rectangular
  • They usually feature bulging, uneven eyes

 

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Tschäggättä Parade To Celebrate Carnival In The Lötschental Valley

If you go to the the Lötschental Valley‘s Carnival parade in Wilder, Switzerland, be ready for Tschäggättä to surprise and scare you.  Tschäggättä roam the streets for days before and after the parades creating mischief and scaring unsuspecting victims.

Witches sold the Lötschentaler Chiächlini, the traditional fatty, sugary Carnival/Fat Tuesday/Fat Thursday treat.  Although I couldn’t find any mention of Lötschentaler Chiächlini, I found this recipe for Swiss Carnival Cookies (Fasnachtsküchlein) that seems similar.  They were good, a cross between a donut and a cookie.  They would have been even better fresh out of the fryer.  I wanted to dip mine in chocolate.

Lots of bands helped make the atmosphere festive.  They played everything from versions of Metallica, Bon Jovi and Kiss to Lady Gaga.  It was easy to pick out the foreigners because they were they ones dancing like idiots to the music.

It must have been a long day for the marching bands and at over a mile in altitude, it was important for them to stay hydrated.

Although Tschäggättä were everywhere, there was much more to the parade.

People of all ages took part and even the smaller participants wore costumes.  Many of the floats appeared to have a political bent.  This one seemed to compare the value of the Euro to that of shredded paper or confetti.

Sarkozy is always present for discussions on the Euro.  He didn’t talk much though as he was passing out tasty beverages.

Traditionally, Tschäggättä were only the villages unmarried men.  Although there is no way of knowing who (or what) is under the furs and masks, Tschäggättä has reportedly expanded to married men and children.  These spooky figures were all women.  Their eeriness appeared better suited for haunting than mischief-making.

Both participants and onlookers had a jolly good time.  Maybe some people were having a bit too much fun.  This costumed observer was scolded by an older Swiss gentleman for kicking snow.  Über Swiss.

Costumed characters on floats tossed confetti, blew bubbles, sang and handed out drinks, cookies and candy.

I got into the fun by scooping up confetti during a lull in the action and tossing it on our unsuspecting friends.  Luckily, I was able to scoop up my wallet that went flying.  

I wasn’t the only one horsing around.  These little observers came prepared with silly string to spray on the parade’s participants.

This group chose global warming as their theme.  The tiny children dressed up as snow balls were adorable and seemed to be enjoying themselves.

The arc needed some minor repairs right in front of us.  We assisted by holding their large bottles of Sangria.  They rewarded us with some.  The costumes were an example of cultural differences.  I don’t know if we would see such painted faces or Fu Manshus in the United States.

The parade finished with a procession of over 100 Tschäggättä!

Sometimes, Carnival celebrations aren’t appropriate for children of families.  Tschäggättä managed to have something for everyone and still be tons of fun.  The atmosphere was playful, cheery and festive.  Everyone from young to old made merry in a ridiculously beautiful setting.

Tschäggättä. Tschwhata? A Swiss Valley’s Unique Carnival Celebration

Tschäggättä are frightening figures that wear furs, giant cowbells around their waists and carved wooden masks.  Every inch of the person underneath the costume is covered to prevent their recognition.  Tschäggättä walk the streets during Carnival waving large wooden sticks,  scaring and/or tossing soot (nowdays confetti) at their unsuspecting victims.  An unwritten rule, allows only unmarried men to do this.  Go figure.  Guys always try to arrange things so that they have all the fun.

It sounds like a rockin’ good time to me, but some may ask whyTschäggättä stems from a time when winter cut the Lötschental Valley off from the outside world during winter.  It was fairly isolated the rest of the year.  Like many rural places, the church dominated many aspects of daily life.   Local peasants saw the time around Carnival as an opportunity to let off some steam, an expression of anarchy and rebellion.   Or, it could come from the heathen tradition of scaring away the spirits of winter.

The legend of Tschäggättä describes them as wild men, thieves from the no longer existing town (but poorer) across the valley that would come to steal.  The thieves dressed themselves up in frightening costumes to create fear and aid in their larceny.