From Mardi Gras to Carnival - American-style Fasching

American-style Fasching

What we call Karneval or Fasching in Germany is known as Mardi Gras in the southern United States. The fact that this celebration, complete with costumes and more, is so enthusiastically embraced, especially in New Orleans, is no coincidence. Whether it's Dia de los Muertos in Mexico or the world-famous Brazilian Carnival, the further south you go from New Orleans, the higher the spirits and the extravagance of the costumes.

Karneval & Fasching – Typically German

Today's Karneval, despite the festive atmosphere, has primarily ecclesiastical roots. In the Catholic Church, the Carnival was established before the start of Lent as an occasion to consume the remaining winter supplies before they could spoil during the fasting period. With the Reformation, many traditions, including Carnival, were questioned in many parts of Germany, and unlike primarily Catholic neighboring countries such as Switzerland or Austria, the Carnival tradition disappeared from large parts of Germany for a long time. During that time, Carnival was celebrated primarily as a costume and masquerade ball in castles and noble houses, of course, with appropriate party drinks.

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The tradition was revived in the 19th century after the end of the French occupation in what are now Prussian territories in northern Germany. The first public street Carnivals of modern times included the still legendary Cologne Carnival, whose famous cry “Kölle Allaf” was first shouted to welcome the Prussian king after the end of the occupation in Cologne.

However, the Carnival gained its popularity in the 1990s when a veritable Carnival boom swept through Germany, finding followers even in predominantly Catholic areas. Today, there is still a strict distinction between traditional Fastnacht and modern Carnival in places like Baden-Württemberg or Bavaria, even though the celebrations with feasts, parades, and a penchant for hearty thirst-quenchers are now quite similar in many aspects.

For all beer enthusiasts, whether during Karneval or Fastnacht, we currently have great treats on offer that taste fantastic not only during Carnival. The 2 new popcorn flavors, “Budweiser” and “Pale Ale,” combine sweet and crunchy caramel with the yeasty taste of freshly tapped beer. Ideal for on-the-go or for cozy celebrations on the couch.

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By the way, the name Fasching, which is used mainly in East Germany, Bavaria, and Austria, also has its roots in the love for hops and malt. The word is an abbreviation for “Fastenschank,” which refers to the last major beer serving before the start of the fasting period.

Mardi Gras – Carnival American Style

However, the beloved Karneval that is so popular here in Germany is notably absent in the USA. The reason for this lies in history. Just as during the Reformation in Germany, the Anglican Church in England abolished the tradition of Carnival, and unlike its revival as Karneval and its continuation in still predominantly Catholic regions here in Germany, it was largely forgotten. Consequently, this tradition did not accompany the English settlers to America, and even though later immigrants, for example, from Germany, brought many of their traditions, Karneval, similar to beer festivals and the like, remained a tradition celebrated at most on a local level.

The fact that the residents of the American South can now enthusiastically celebrate Mardi Gras is due to remnants of their time as French colonies. The French settlers, as devout Catholics, also brought their fasting tradition with them to the colonies of the New World. Mardi Gras, literally “Fat Tuesday,” was the last day of the traditional celebration week before the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday.

Part of this tradition can still be found today in the American Pancake Day. Its origins are also in the fasting period, as in Louisiana, Alabama, and other places, large quantities of pancakes were made around this time to use up the excess fat before fasting.

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Mardi Gras is primarily a street festival today, with many processions, street stalls, and parades. Costumes are also not uncommon, thanks to the mixing with modern global Carnival culture, although they are not necessarily traditional for this holiday. Instead, this tradition is still mainly reserved for Halloween in the USA. The origin is likely the same pagan tradition in which pre-Christian tribes tried to protect themselves from spirits with spooky masks and tried to drive away winter with drums and noise. If you've had enough of winter and are longing for spring, simply grab one of the fantastic scented candles from the Kringle Candle Halloween Limited Edition and drive winter out of your home, at least.

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Dia de los Muertos

Unlike the typical Carnival celebrations here or elsewhere in South America, Mexico has its own unique tradition of celebration and dressing up, with surprisingly many parallels to our Fasching. Instead of before Lent, Mexicans traditionally celebrate Dia de los Muertos (translated as the “Day of the Dead”) in November. This cultural influence likely contributed to the celebration of Halloween in the USA today in the fall, instead of like Carnival and its pagan predecessors, at the end of winter.

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Today, this particularly colorful holiday, characterized by costumes and treats, has similar mythological roots to the supposed predecessors of modern Halloween, such as the Celtic Samhain. According to tradition, on these days, the souls of the dead return to the world of the living. While this was a reason for Europeans to be fearful and protect themselves from evil spirits with spooky masks, the ancient Aztecs saw it as an opportunity to celebrate with their ancestors and honor them with respect. Spanish missionaries unsuccessfully tried to abolish these death cults, so the festival, similar to what happened with Christmas during Roman times, was merged with a Christian holiday (in this case, All Saints' Day), in the hope that the festival would eventually lose its original meaning.

Instead, over the centuries, both festivals merged into a long festive week, and many of the originally Mexican customs (adapted to the times) have been preserved to this day. These include the omnipresent face paintings in the form of skulls, reminiscent of real skulls that the Aztecs used to set up to provide a temporary home for the returning souls of their ancestors (and also their adversaries).

Brazilian Carnival

The epicenters of Carnival tradition in the New World are now mainly located far south of the USA, which is no wonder considering that many of the countries in Central and South America were under Spanish and Portuguese, and thus Catholic, influence during colonial times.

The most famous and largest Carnival takes place annually in Rio de Janeiro. The tradition was originally introduced by the Portuguese colonial masters, who celebrated the festival with grand dance and costume parties and street parades. The Samba, which is now inseparable from Brazilian Carnival, was originally brought by African slaves who had been transported to the New World by the Portuguese. Today, Brazilian Carnival is dominated by Samba, and the world-famous parade is simultaneously a competition among the (over 200) local Samba schools, who vie for the favor of the audience and judges with their dance skills and, above all, colorful costumes.

Away from the dance processions, Carnival, similar to Mardi Gras in New Orleans & Co., is mainly celebrated as a grand street festival with music, food, and drinks, which also happily extends to the local beaches and bars.

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As you can see, there are many creative ways to celebrate Carnival. In the end, it's all about good spirits, good food and drinks, and having a good time with friends and acquaintances.