Chronicles of a writer abroad

Fasnacht, we hardly knew ye

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There was a carnival in Switzerland this past week/weekend. Sadly, I didn’t really notice.

I thought that Fasnacht, the celebration that occurs just before or right after the beginning of Lent, would be a little more attention-grabbing. According to my diligent internet research, the purpose of the festival is to dress up in costumes and make a lot of noise in order to banish the winter and its attendant spirits. The arrival of Fasnacht was heralded in the grocery store for weeks beforehand by the appearance of Fasnachtschuechli, flat, sweet, crispy discs of fried flour covered in powdered sugar. At least I did some investigative reporting into those for you (report: they are delicious).

In my defense, Zürich is not really known for its celebration of Fasnacht: Basel or Lucerne are the cities where you want to be to catch the true celebrations. But I did pretty much miss whatever happened here. I was riveted by footage of the quake in Japan, and didn’t venture outside of my neighborhood on the weekend. At some point on Saturday, I heard some noise, and looked outside to see a very small procession, consisting of costumed people (many of them children) making a very reasonable amount of noise as it wended its way down my street and around the corner to a public square, where there was later some live music and a few benches for people to eat and drink beer at. Apparently, this was the “Zuri-Nord” celebration of Fasnacht, and I must say that I was underwhelmed (if that’s a word…and it appears that it now is!). It was so contained and…well, neat, like everything else in Switzerland. There was confetti in shades of pastel covering the streets for a short time following the parade, and then it was meticulously cleaned up. I didn’t experience any obnoxiously loud music, see any really crazy costumes, or witness any obstreperous behaviour. It was just another weekend in Pleasantville.

Well, I feel sort of like I’ve let you down by failing to experience this holiday. I promise to be much more vigilant when Sechseläuten comes along: this is another celebration of Spring that will occur on the 11th of April — on this day, a snowman will be placed atop of a pyre and burned; the amount of time that it takes for his head to be engulfed in flames will somehow indicate to the residents of Zürich what the weather in the coming summer will be like — essentially, this is a variation of Groundhog Day. You can trust me to be your foreign correspondent for this strange-sounding holiday.

Easter also promises to be a big deal in Switzerland, if one judges by the grocery store (the grocery store is a major barometer of life for the hausfrau, savvy?). Our local store is already festooned with a few extra chocolate aisles, stuffed with eggs and chocolate rabbits. The beauty, and danger, of chocolate in Switzerland is that it is cheap: a chocolate rabbit about the size of our smaller cat (albeit hollow, unlike our cat), would run you only 5 CHF. We will be away for Easter, as I mentioned last week, so the only challenge is to resist the imploring stares of the cheap, delicious-looking rabbits until then.


One thought on “Fasnacht, we hardly knew ye

  1. Pingback: 24 hours in Freiburg | Milchtoast

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