// Februar 14th, 2010 // 2 Comments » // Einblicke
I decided to post this one in English, as I frequently get requests from my non-German-speaking audience and this one might be interesting for you
While as most countries know four seasons, spring, summer, autumn and winter, there is one more in the west of Germany. It is a parallel season, called “the fifth”, or simply carnival. Yes, it is much more than the four days in February, which are marked as “street carnival”. Carnival starts exactly on the 11.11. at 11:11 a.m.. From this day on there are so called “carnival sessions” with songs, funny speeches and dance and beer. Some day between Easter, which doesn’t have a fixed date as you will know, and Christmas, there is “street carnival”. Usually in February. And usually it is really cold. Everything starts on a Thursday, at, of course, 11:11 a.m.. People will be wearing costumes, drink, dance, have fun. This continues more or less until Monday, called “Rose Monday”, when long parades throwing sweets and playing songs walk through the streets. This is the highlight of carnival, and especially the kids love it. Most spectators are dressed up and in a happy mood. On Wednesday, “Ash Wednesday”, it is all over. So you can see, that there is some kind of Christian background – have party before the Lenten season – but as well a pagan background – banishing the demons of the winter with masks and dances.
What is so special about carnival?
To me, it is of course the costuming issue. People dress up fancily. As an anthropologist, it is interesting to me what dresses people choose. There are various categories:
- mythological: you see angels, demons, devils. Often in a twisted version: good devils, sexy and sinful angels. Vampires are popular as well. The sinful seems to be one of the aspects, that is especially stressed in carnival dresses. But the sexyness cannot be too exaggerated, as carnival comes in winter, and it is simply too cold to be half-naked. Luckily.
- other jobs: nurses and doctors are of course one of the all time favourites, but you see as well FBI-agents, gay hairstylists, butchers, gardeners etc. It seems to be fun to be something else for a moment.
- other epochs: there are cowboys and Indians, Egyptian pharaos, baroque ladies (like me this year), fairys from the middle ages, emperors of the ancient Rome or Greek muses and – very fashionable during the last years – pirates. Even the fashion of the 50ies, 60ies, 70ies and 80ies is en vogue for carnival, or let’s say what today’s people imagine what might have been their fashion. A longing for other versions of the self might play a role. What would I have been living 30, 40 or even 500 years earlier? Sometimes people encorporate specific historical figures like Napoleon, Caesar or Elvis.
- other cultures: everything that has the aura of exotic or different is likely to be chosen as costume. You see girls in sarees, you see bellydancers, pashas and geishas. Even costumes from other areas of Europe like Spanish flamenco dancer or blond dutch cheese-vendors can be seen, or to stay even in Germany: Bavarian “dirndels”. There is of course no claim to look like the “originals”.
- cross dressing: you see men dressed as women with big boobs and high heels – and no, this doesn’t mean they are gay – and girls wearing a james bond suit and a moustache.
- some people prefer freaky, funny costumes. The clown is said to be the best costume for carnival, but you might see someone dressed up with a shower cabine around him, a girl in a white, torn dress with a huge king kong hand aroung her waist, or a kid as a pencil with a cone shaped hat and a round paperboard construction round the body (yes, I was a pencil when I was a kid and when I fell, I was rolling down a hill – hated it!).
Obviously the costume issue is relevant in many cultures. Even in the ancient Rome they had a role play – party with slaves being masters and masters being slaves for a day. In India, we have Holi as the festival of colours, and I am sure you will find many examples from all over the world. A short period of being someone, something else, experimenting with the self. It is like an exercise, but it is enjoyable.
But, instead of all the fun, there is a slight melancholy about carnival. Listen to carnival “best of” songs and you will find many having a minor key. Some texts are about the good old days, about how time goes by. It is omnipresent: carnival is just a short time and it is over soon.
Now it is about you: how do you celebrate carnival? What is your costume?
fashion: hoot couture I model: self I photo: sebastian & moni