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Liechtenstein's Season of Festivities
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Liechtenstein's Season of Festivities

Picture of The Culture Trip
Updated: 13 December 2015
Sarah Haunert explores the history behind Liechtenstein’s ‘fifth season’, which is a season of festivities beginning in November and lasting until Ash Wednesday. The town of Schaan is the centre of this festive tradition.

For towns across Germany, Austria and Switzerland, Fastnacht is the culmination of a season of festivities, called the fifth season that officially starts on the 11th of November at 11:11h and ends on Ash Wednesday, which occurs in February or March. Whilst a latecomer to the festivities, the town of Schaan in Liechtenstein has incorporated Fastnacht into its annual cultural calendar.

The origins of carnivals in the Rhineland and its surrounding regions go back to the 12th century, when people held Narrenfeste (jester celebrations) in Catholic churches, which parodied churchly rituals. During Fastnacht, people dress-up in costumes and masks and participate in boisterous celebrations in preparation for the period of fasting that begins on Ash Wednesday.

According to some sources Liechtenstein’s first carnival celebrations started around the beginning of the 20th century. However, only in 1952 has Liechtenstein organised its carnival by initiating a carnival parade in one of its communes, namely Schaan. The beginnings of Liechtenstein’s carnival efforts were marked by difficulties; no parade occurred between 1953-1956, and in 1964 the government forbade the festivities in order to avoid a spreading of a recent outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. Since its uneven start, Liechtenstein’s carnival celebrations have become major cultural attractions.

The parade in Schaan served as a stepping-stone for the emergence of other carnival events. In 1976, the first monster concert was organised in Schaan, featuring 300 Guggen musicians. Guggen music refers to a strongly rhythmic instrumental music that is performed to sound deliberately wrong. The musicians create a quirky effect by playing recognisable songs slightly off-tune. In recent years the monster concerts have rapidly grown in popularity.

Other Lenten traditions have also established themselves in Liechtenstein. On Dirty Thursday (the start of the carnival week), for instance, children scorch corks and try to blacken each other’s faces with them. Their aim is it to blacken others and to avoid being blackened oneself.A permanent exhibition at Liechtenstein’s national museum is dedicated to the country’s carnival tradition, inviting for a further exploration into the fantastical world of Liechtenstein’s carnival.

By Sarah Haunert