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While Carnival is celebrated around the world from Brazil to Venice, Prague puts its own special twist on the event. Masopust, as it’s known in Czech, is a vibrant celebration that marks the end of winter and ushers in spring with a number of parties and parades full of colourful costumes throughout the city. Singing, dancing, eating and drinking are all key parts of Prague’s Masopust festivities. To take part, just put on a mask and join the fun.
In Old Czech, the word ‘masopust’ means ‘meat fast’ and is the equivalent of ‘Shrove Tuesday’ or Mardi Gras. Dating back to the 13th century, the celebration historically was meant to be a way to bid farewell to winter and celebrate the fertility of spring. Nowadays, it marks the beginning of the Lenten season with feasting and fun.
Back in the Middle Ages, it was customary for a group of men dressed in costumes to go door to door, in a way similar to today’s Halloween trick-or-treat, singing and dancing in exchange for pork, doughnuts or brandy. Roast pig, alcohol, singing and dancing all still play an important part in the modern annual celebrations of Prague’s Carnival.
In the weeks leading up to Lent, celebrations for Masopust — or Bohemian Carnevale, as it’s also known — take place throughout the city of Prague and range from themed menus at restaurants to organised children’s programmes. However, it’s the Žižkov neighbourhood that holds the honour of hosting the longest-standing Masopust celebration in the city with its parade and festivities in Jiřího z Poděbrad Square taking place for over 25 years. During the carnival period, the square is filled with live music, great food and lots of drinks. Parade spectators can expect to see larger than life puppets, colourful floats and whimsical costumes winding through the streets, finishing off with an impressive firework display in Park U Viktorky Zizkov.
As Masopust is tied to the Lenten season and Easter holiday, the carnival dates change each year. It usually takes place in late February or early March. Most big parties, like the celebration at Jiřího z Poděbrad, usually happen over the weekend prior to Ash Wednesday. If you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of one of the famous costume parades, then make sure you snag a spot along the parade route on Shrove Tuesday.
If you want to be right in the midst of the action, finding a place to stay near in Žižkov will put you at the heart of the excitement. There will also be several events and exhibits taking place throughout the season in Old Town. For those looking to dive headfirst into Masopust, a short bus or train journey just past the Prague Zoo to the suburb of Roztoky will present the opportunity to experience one of the biggest celebrations of local traditions. One of the perks of attending the Roztoky Masopust parade is that carnival masks depicting characters of Czech folklore can be rented on-site at the Central Bohemian Museum, making it easy to take part in the celebrations.
If you’re interested in attending a more refined event, Prague’s Clam-Gallas Palace hosts an annual masked ball inspired by Renaissance Venice to mark the season. Both Mozart and Beethoven once performed at this historic location. The elegant costumes and classical music combine to create a truly memorable Masopust experience.
You don’t need to have a costume to take part in the celebrations, but dressing up will help you fully embrace the fun spirit of Masopust. There are no hard rules for carnival costumes but generally, the brighter and bigger they are the better. You’ll likely see plenty of Czech folklore characters, bear costumes, chimney sweeps and parodies of unpopular politicians on the street. No matter how you choose to celebrate, all you need to fully enjoy Masopust in Prague is to drink, eat, and be merry.
This article is an updated version of a story created by Diana Bocco.