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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Annecy’s Venetian Carnival

Annecy, France is beautiful.  As it is an easy day trip from Geneva (or even an easy dinner trip), we’ve taken lots of visitors there.  While it is exceptionally beautiful in summer with the masses flowers planted throughout the town every year, it has gorgeous old buildings, canals and a beautiful lakeside making it  picturesque all year round and never disappoints visitors.

Last weekend, Annecy had its Venetian Carnival.  It is a logical place for a Venetian style carnival for several reasons:

  • Annecy is in the Savoy region of France.  The Savoy region was part of the Italian Kingdom of Sardinia.
  • Savoy borders Italy (as well as Switzerland).  Annecy has maintained a strong relationship with Italy and hosts Italian themed cultural events, including and Italian Film Festival.  It is even twinned with Vincenza in Venetia, Italy.
  • Like Venice, Annecy has canals running through it with ancient  bridges over them.  It is known as the Venice of the Alps.

Two weeks after the traditional Carnival, Annecy hosts its own Venetian Carnival.  Many of the costumed participants were in Venice during its carnival.  The costumes are similarly ornate, mysterious and luxurious.  Its over 350 costumed participants make it as large or larger that that of Venice.

Annecy has tourism down pat.  It is photogenic and people turn up in droves to capture the over 350 costumes with the town as a backdrop. Although its crowded, if you are patient, you will get a shot as the participants are gracious and are eager to pose for you.

I kept trying to get more natural pictures of them.  These are the closest I got.

One of my favorite parts was seeing children so excited and dressed up in costumes.  They were adorable and their enthusiasm was contagious.

Morgestreich, An Early Morning Parade During Basel’s Carnival Celebration

Basel, Switzerand’s Carnival celebration, Fasnacht, starts with the Morgestraich parade at four o’clock on the Monday morning after Ash Wednesday.  When clocks strike four, the entire city goes black.  When the streetlights go out, a magical atmosphere envelops the city and the tens of thousands assembled to watch gasp.

Lanterns are lit and fife and drum music starts to waft through the streets.  Masked marchers in strange, whimsical costumes, and large caricature heads form eerie processions through the streets.

Each group has their own costume, theme music and immense float-like lantern  (that requires four large men to carry them).

Some marchers carry colorful lanterns attached to the ends of long poles.

Floats and marchers displaying large caricature heads often lampoon regional and national politicians.  Many of this year’s themes were financial.

Although the streets are crowded, the atmosphere is warm, festive and mysterious.  At five o’clock the city lights come back on, marchers and spectators take a break and warm themselves at inns and taverns.  With all the bizarrely costumed patrons, it slightly resembles the bar in Star Wars.

Popular foods include: Basler Mehlsuppe/Carnival Soup (a thick brown flour soup), Zwiebelwähe (onion tart) and Fastenwähe, a caraway-seed pretzel.

Basel’s Carnival festival, Fasnacht, is one of Europe’s top 50 festivals and does not disappoint.  The atmosphere is magical and the experience unforgettable.

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.