Carnival – from Rosenmontag (Rose Monday) to Ash Wednesday

Rosenmontagsumzug in Köln: Gruppe mit Clown-Marionetten Увеличаване на снимка (© picture-alliance / dpa) When kilometre-long processions wind their way through Cologne, Mainz and Düsseldorf, huge gaily costumed crowds dance and sing their hearts out and people sporting strange headgear shout “Alaaf” and “Helau” in a hail of sweets and confetti, Germany’s Carnival season has reached its peak. It’s Rosenmontag (Rose Monday)!

Carnival / Fasching / Fastnacht

This special time in the calendar is also known as Fastnacht or Fasching. In the Middle Ages Fasching marked the period between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday, the day when people started fasting in preparation for Easter. Today the Carnival season – also known as “the fifth season” – starts already on 11 November at precisely 11.11 a.m. Fastnacht is celebrated above all in Catholic parts of Germany.

Rosenmontag always falls on the Monday before Ash Wednesday, i.e. 48 days before Easter Sunday.

Düsseldorfer Rosenmontagszug Увеличаване на снимка (© picture-alliance/ dpa) Carnival processions

Carnival processions take place up and down Germany the weekend before Rosenmontag, on Rosenmontag itself or the following day. These processions have a long tradition and for many Carnival lovers are the highpoint of the season.

In Germany the Rosenmontag processions in Cologne, Mainz and Düsseldorf are national spectacles, all of them attracting crowds of up to one million.

The first Rosenmontag procession was staged in Cologne in 1823, followed two years later by Düsseldorf and by Mainz in 1836. Except in times of war and severe shortages, they have been an annual event ever since. Year by year the Carnival culture is spreading also to other parts of Germany. The Rhineland in particular is greatly attached to its Carnival traditions.

Today’s processions all feature music and dancing in the streets, cavalry decked out in gaudy uniforms and floats with huge papiermaché figures. Many are designed to take the mickey out of politicians and other public figures or as a satirical comment on topical social issues.

“Seven weeks without”

According to Christian doctrine, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts up to Easter. During Lent people are meant to prepare themselves for the resurrection of Jesus Christ following the crucifixion on Good Friday. In the Catholic Church the priest on Ash Wednesday draws the sign of the Cross in ash on the foreheads of the faithful both as a mark of repentance and as a reminder that all life comes to an end.

On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday Christians avoid meat or opt to fast completely. During Lent it’s also customary to give money to help those in need. In the “seven weeks without” many people try to do without things they normally enjoy such as alcohol, video games or cigarettes.

Karneval in Rio de Janeiro Увеличаване на снимка (© picture-alliance / Agencia Estad) Carnival around the world

Carnival is celebrated in other parts of the world, too. For example:

- the Carnivale di Venezia, a 10-day long festival to “take leave of meat”, celebrated with stunning and brilliantly costumed spectacles;

- the Notting Hill Carnival in London held every year in the last week of August;

- Mardi Gras (literally “fat Tuesday”) held in France the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday;

- the Whitsun Carnival in Denmark;

- Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival, with its impressive floats, breath-taking costumes and highly professional dancers, is for many Brazilians the highlight of the year.

Making merry in Germany and around the world

Karneval in Rio de Janeiro