History of Carnival
An inspiration for the carnival lies in the fact that during Lent, traditionally no parties may be held and many foods, such as meat, are forbidden; the forty days of Lent serve to commemorate the Passion of Jesus. It is natural for people to have the desire to hold a large celebration at the last possible opportunity before fasting.
Parts of the carnival traditions, however, likely reach back to pre-Christian times. The ancient Roman festival of the Saturnalia is a probable origin of the Italian Carnival. The Saturnalia, in turn, may be based on the Greek Dionysia and Oriental festivals. While medieval pageants and festivals such as Corpus Christi were church sanctioned celebrations, carnival was a representation of medieval folk culture. Many local carnival customs are also based on local pre-Christian rituals, for example the elaborate rites involving masked figures in the Swabian-Alemannic carnival.
In Christianity, the most famous traditions, including parades and masquerading, are first attested from medieval Italy. The carnival of Venice was for a long time the most famous carnival. From Italy, carnival traditions spread to Spain, Portugal, and France. From France, they spread to the Rhineland of Germany, and to New Orleans. From Spain and Portugal, they spread to Latin America. Many other areas have developed their own traditions.
The "Swabian-Alemannic" carnival begins on January 6 (Epiphany/Three Kings Day). This celebration is known as Fastnacht. Variants are Fasnet, Fasnacht or Fasent. Fastnacht is held in Baden-Württemberg, parts of Bavaria, and Alsace. Switzerland and Vorarlberg, in Austria, also hold this celebration. The festival starts on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday, known in these regions as Schmutziger Donnerstag or Fettdonnerstag. In standard German, schmutzig means "dirty", but actually the name is from the local dialect where schmutzig means "fat"; "Greasy Thursday" (also compare: "Mardi Gras" in New Orleans). Elsewhere the day is called "Women's Carnival" (Weiberfastnacht), being the day when tradition says that women take control. In particular regions of Tyrol, Salzburg and Bavaria traditional processions of the Perchten welcome the springtime. The Schönperchten ("beautiful Perchts") represent the birth of new life in the awakening nature, the Schiachperchten ("ugly Perchts") represent the dark spirits of wintertime. Farmers yearn for warmer weather and the Perchtenlauf (Run of Perchts; typical scenery) is a magical expression of that desire. The nights between winter and spring, when evil ghosts are supposed to go around, are also called Rauhnächte ("rough nights"). Mask of an "ugly Percht"