Colorful and somewhat scary costumes, lots of music, dancing and cake. That’s fašank, masopust, končiny or ostatky, the legendary Czech Mardi Gras, the time of strange traditions like burrying the contrabass…
Fašank is a festivity which takes place just before the 40-day-long Lent period of Easter. You probably know it as Mardi Gras or carnival but this is the Mardi Gras Czech way, so don’t expect any half-naked dancers or Venetian face masks. Instead, enter the world of strange creatures and even stranger customs.
The festival can differ region to region but the idea is always the same – to enjoy the last days of plenty before the long period of Lent. What is now a free choice out of respect for traditions used to be an inseparable part of one’s religious life. Although formerly a pagan festival, fašank announced the upcoming Easter and meant that people had the last chance to rejoice and enjoy the festivities before it was time to slow down. Traditionally, a pig is slaughtered in the traditional zabíjačka and the ovens which have barely cooled down from baking Christmas cookies had a lot of work ahead of them to accommodate everyone’s sweet tooth again.
Czech Mardi Gras Costumes
A costume parade is probably the most famous part of fašank. If you go to the Czech Republic for Mardi Gras, you will notice that the colorful costumes often portray animals or professions but in a strange and scary way. There are several traditional characters which you will encounter at every Czech Mardi Gras.
There is the bear on a chain and its master, the so called hřebenář (hair comb maker). Especially the bear must be in every fašank parade or it’s not fašank. Skakúni are young men in black coats and with red ribbons on their hats. They are usually leading the dances throughout the parade. Podšabláři are men with red wooden sabres dancing traditional sabre dances.
Every parade will also have it’s devil and men in female folcloric clothes. As we mentioned before, many masks represent animals (horses, cows, birds…) and also professions such as a chimney sweeper.
The Constrabass Funeral
Probably the strangest of all the Czech Mardi Gras traditions comes at the very end and it’s exactly what it sounds like – an actual funeral. The community comes together to bury the contrabass which is treated like a real person. It is placed in a coffin or at least covered with a white sheet. A priest and the altar boys talk about it’s life and it’s sins. These can be the real priest of the village or just people in costumes and the ceremony is a funny one.
Watch this Contrabass Funeral in Strání, Czech Republic:
Where to see Fašank
Same like hody, many Czech villages have their own Mardi Gras and even some city quarters organize the festivities. Probably the most famous fašank you can witness is a whole 5-day-festival in Strání – a small village in the ethnographic region of Slovácko (Moravian Slovakia). There you can enjoy not only the traditional parade and feast but also a traditional crafts fair and the performances of many folcloric groups from the region and further.
Did you enjoy this post? Go to Celebrations to discover more about different Czech festivities!