Today in Germany, seemingly for no particular reason other than they can, women take to the streets dressed as all kinds of crazy characters (mostly clowns, which I find terrifying) and run around with scissors cutting off men’s ties, they can then kiss the man whose tie they have cut off. The men then tend to go off and slosh bier steins together.
This is Weiberfastnacht also known as Old Crone’s Day or simply Women’s Day and it marks the beginning of five days of absolute craziness called Karneval.
The “Old Crones” cause havoc in the towns stripping men of their “manhood” (ties) and storming the Town Hall to eject the mayor (not forgetting to cut off his tie) from office for the duration of Karneval so that the women can rule, while the mayor goes off to slosh bier steins together. The women continue to wreak havoc and slosh a few bier steins of their own together.
School children go to school in fancy dress and spend the day playing tricks on eachother. Older children finish school early for the day and head into town with the adults to join in the merriment and slosh bier steins together. They arrive home in the afternoon attempting to disguise the fact they have been sloshing bier steins together, usually very successfully since their parents have been sloshing bier steins together for most of the day too.
It’s origins? Karnival celebrations stem from various beliefs. For catholics, it symbolises a festive season of food and fun before the fasting period of Lent begins.
In pre-Christian times, karnival celebrations represented the driving out of winter and all of its evil spirits. Hence the masks to “scare” away these spirits. The karnival celebrations in southern Germany and Switzerland reflect these traditions.
Further karnival traditions can be traced back to historical events. After the French Revolution, the French took over Rhineland. Out of protest against French oppression, Germans from Cologne and nearby areas would mock their politicians and leaders safely from behind masks during carnival season. In some places today, caricatures of politicians and other personalities can be seen portrayed on floats in the parades.
The entire festival actually begins on November 11th at 11am when the “Council of Eleven” comes together to plan the events for the upcoming festivities. It tends to go dormant over Christmas before beginning again on the Thursday before lent, with parties and celebrations and much sloshing of bier steins together over the weekend and then culminating on “Rosenmontag” (Rose Monday- the Monday before Ash Wednesday), with parades throughout the towns. Yet more clowns and sloshing of bier steins together!
Karneval, in a nutshell, from what I have gathered over the six years we have been in Germany, is generally an excuse to partake in that great German tradition of sloshing bier steins together and go berserk for five days before abstaining for lent.