Around this time last year, I had the pleasure of going to my first Fastnacht festival in Switzerland. Now, you might be wondering what the heck Fastnacht is... it is Carnival or Karneval, the German equivalent of Mardi Gras. In Austria, Karneval is called Fashing, in Switzerland it is Fastnacht, and in parts of Germany it is just Karneval.
The Fastnacht (Swiss) version of carnival has some unique characteristics and customs that you might not see in other regions. The use of elaborate carved wooden masks, devils, witches, animals and other 'wild characters' is common, and a wee bit terrifying (if I do say so), with the effort being to drive out evil spirits in the dark of winter. There are floats, school and village bands, loud music and lots of confetti! It's basically a parade and party, where people drink and enjoy a day of being 'wild and foolish' (what Fasnacht pretty much means) before Lent.
Now I will tell you, being that I am American and have never been to Mardi Gras, the whole Fastnacht experience was like nothing I've ever experienced. People within the parade were openly drinking alcohol and smoking, picking children out of the crowd and carrying them off, shoving confetti down our jackets and hoods, chasing members within the crowd, and handing out wine and candy. Whereas the whole experience as a whole was fun and exciting, there were parts (like when they tried to carry my daughter off) that were a bit over the top and scary for children. However, the music from the bands was amazing and my favorite part.
Here is a video taken at one of the Fastnachts that I attended last year. Have a look for yourself at the festivities!