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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Annual Carnival in Basel, Switzerland ~ Fasnacht

     I wanted to write about something related to a masques, carnival, mardi gras theme, based on my recent novella, Autumn Masquerade. By coincidence, a friend told me this morning he is traveling to Switzerland in March for the Basel Carnival, so I decided to check it out and give us all a little insight into this unique European festival. Like everything in Europe, it’s an ancient custom.

Basilea, an old woodblock depiction
     The Swiss are known worldwide for punctuality and as experts in timing, not just as cuckoo clock and luxury watch manufacturers. Therefore, it's little wonder that the Basel Carnival - Fasnacht - lasts exactly 72 hours, starting at 4am on the Monday after Ash Wednesday and ending at 4am the following Thursday. Precision!
     Here are some fun facts about this event, which by the way, is considered one of the 50 best local festivities in Europe.
     ***Participants are expected to remain totally incognito throughout the festival. It is considered very bad form to let anyone know who you are. Costumes cover literally every inch of you, so no clues. (This has overtones of famous Swiss bank secrecy… I think the Swiss enjoy secrecy in general from the sound of things.)
     ***Confetti is thrown during carnival. Some local historians claim the concept of confetti originated right there, although there is no proof. Small sugar balls called confetti used to be thrown until it was prohibited in the 19th century, when they substituted small shards of paper. Straw was also thrown for a while. Confetti is sold in bags with one color only, so you are expected to throw only that one color. It is considered bad form to throw mixed colors, as this indicates you probably swept it up off the streets and that is unhygienic.
 Basel Carnival - A Marching Brass Band

     ***Most groups, known as cliques, choose a theme (sujet) that is current and newsworthy. Sarcasm is used heavily. They pass out Zeedel (leaflets or flyers) with ironic and sarcastic verse about the “hot topic”. The subject of the theme is usually displayed on the famous lanterns made up for the Morgenstreich and the members of the clique wear costumes associated with their theme.
 One of the illuminated carnival lanterns

     ***Spectators run the risk of being attacked from behind by confetti-throwers, especially if they don’t have on a Blaggedde which is a Carnival badge. If you are wearing a masque or costume you are not subject to being bombarded by confetti throwers.
     ***There are marching brass bands and floats to be seen at certain times during the Carnival. The Waggis wear a particular type of costume and are quite famous for being rude. They are the main confetti throwing crowd.
 A Basel Carnival Illuminated Lantern of George Bush

     Remember that if you have serious business to attend to, you will be very frustrated during this week because almost all work and school schedules cease to exist. Also, as the carnival progresses, the degree of irreverence increases. By the end of the Fasnacht the city cleans up and life returns to its usual rhythm within a day or two.
     BASEL is an ancient city. Baselea was documented as early as 374AD. The rich heritage is a blend of three countries – Switzerland, France and Germany. It is located in northwest Switzerland on the border of France and Germany. Basler German (a Swiss dialect) is the official language, but the highly educated population mostly speaks fluent German and French, as well as English. It is a prosperous industrial, pharmaceutical and banking center of significant historical and cultural significance. 
     There's something mysterious and romantic about dressing in disguise. As an author, just the thought of going incognito to a public event opens my imagination to countless possibilities!

GEMMA JULIANA is a multi-published author who lives in an enchanted cottage in north Texas. She loves making new friends and hearing from readers. Exotic coffee and chocolate fuel her creativity. You can follow Gemma on Twitter: and see her books by visiting


Gemma Juliana said...

Have you ever been to a European or Rio style carnival, or a masquerade ball? Would love to hear how you enjoyed it!

Sandy said...

No, I haven't been to a masquerade ball, but I have been to that part of Switzerland, and it's beautiful.

Thank you for all the information on Carnival in Basel, Switzerland, Gemma. A very interesting post.

vicki batman said...

That is so fascinating. I had no idea. Covering every inch of one's body? Wow. And interesting about confetti. Great post.

Rose Anderson said...

Great post! I love discovering new things...confetti..who knew?

I haven't been to one but oddly enough my husband and I were just talking about hosting a masquerade party in the coming year. I wonder if we covered absolutely every inch like they do if we'd truly be incognito. lol fun idea.

jean hart stewart said...

Something new to me and I thought I knew a lot about Switzerland. Fascinating.....thanks.....

Gemma Juliana said...

Hi Sandy, It is a beautiful part of Switzerland. Hope your husband is feeling better.

Glad you enjoyed the post, Vicki. I think they are pretty extreme about the 'secrecy' aspect of the masquerade compared to other carnival locations.

Rose, what a fun idea! To me the hardest part of masquerade when it's an event where you know everyone is disguising the voice.

Hi Jean, glad you enjoyed the post. I love learning new things too.

Adele Downs said...

Great post, Gemma! Very interesting and enjoyable. All the best, too, with your release.


Gemma Juliana said...

Thanks for stopping by, Adele!

Cara Marsi said...

How interesting, Gemma. I think we need one of those festivals here, especially since everything closes down. What a great setting for a book, maybe a romantic suspens.

Gemma Juliana said...

Hi Cara, I agree, with everyone totally disguised there could be a great suspense plot at an event like this. Carnivals let average people blow off a lot of steam and frustration in a healthy manner for those who are that way inclined. Thanks for stopping by!

Melissa Keir said...

I've never been to carnival or a masquerade ball. I think it would be fun. I can't imagine how hard it would be to find a costume during that time of the year!

Great post! I loved learning about the history of a place my ancestors came from!

Gemma Juliana said...

You're right, Melissa. It would be hard to find a costume in the area. I think a lot of those dedicated to carnival make their own since they are in groups and there are probably annual themes.

Andrea Cooper said...

Wonderful post - I didn't know this about Switzerland. Tweeted.

Gemma Juliana said...

Thanks Andrea~tweets appreciated! :) said...

Hi Gemma,
What a great post! I haven't been to a Swiss carnival, but I've been to carnivals in Austria and Germany. There is one town in Germany where any man wearing a tie during carnival will have it cut off by the women. Very Freudian :) What a fun post. Loved the photos!

Adrienne deWolfe said...

Hi, Gemma! Fascinating post! Love to read about masquerades, but I'm kinda squeamish, myself, about attending giant masquerade parties -- say, 6th Street, in Austin, TX -- where lots of strangers (who are VERY strange,) are running around in masks. Guess that makes me an armchair partier? LOL!
P.S. Didn't know you were from Texas!! Hugs!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

A very interesting post, Gemma!

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