Carnival is one of the most popular event in Switzerland. Among sacred origins and profane traditions, it is the opportunity to celebrate the end of winter and welcome the arrival of spring with scary masks and loud music bands. Many carnival events are scheduled every year in the main Swiss cities, thanks to the tireless and passionate work of citizens' committees and carnival associations. After the forced break in 2021 due to the pandemic, many of the events can be held regularly this year. So here is a list and all the information from the three must-see Swiss carnivals!
Carnival is a popular event that is deeply loved in Switzerland. Among sacred and profane, in many large cities and small towns people celebrate dancing to the rhythm of loud music and wearing monstrous masks on their faces. In fact, the preparation of the masks is itself part of the event: in the months preceding the carnival, many Swiss people work hard to create their own costumes, proudly exhibited during the many days of celebration. And numerous are also the music bands that are ready to animate the squares and streets during the days of the carnival.
We discovered the Lucerne carnival in 2020, just after our arrival in the city and some day before the Covid19 pandemic broke out in Europe and forced everyone to take a long break. Fortunately, this year’s more favorable pandemic situation allowed the federal government to relax the pandemic restrictions, allowing also many popular carnival events to take place again. So here’s a list and all the latest information on Switzerland’s three must-see carnivals!
Let’s start with the carnival in our home town: Lucerne! Every year, the event transforms the small and tidy city into a crazy, noisy, prankster and carefree reality. The carnival is the city’s biggest event and, not surprisingly, is considered by the locals as a fifth season of the year, a time of its own. Lucerne’s Fasnacht is a spontaneous and viral event, minimally planned because it is the result of a collective spirit of fun and celebration that revolves around a few official events. The main protagonist of the festival is the Fritschi family: Bruder Fritschi, his wife the Fritschene, and their son Fritschikind. The origin of these popular figures is uncertain, but it is certainly very old. Today, the Fritschi family consists of masked human figures who lead town processions and interact with locals and tourists. The soundtrack of the event is guaranteed by the Guggenmuusige, musical bands that, strictly in mask, play popular songs in noisy and funny arrangements. They are the real soul of the party!
In 2022 the Lucerne Carnival will take place! The celebration, which began on Saturday 19 with the traditional Fasnachtsmäärt, a strange combination of a weekly market and a folk festival, continues until the beginning of March. Here are the events not to be missed:
– Fritschitagwache and Fritschiumzug, Thursday, February 24: The Fat Thursday (Schmutzigen Donnerstag) party opens the carnival celebration at dawn. At 5 a.m., at Schweizerhofquai, Brother Fritschi and his companions arrive in the city to open a parade that, with music and noise, passes through the historic city center. The procession will continue throughout the city starting at 2 pm.
– Tagwache der Wey-Zunft and Der grosse Weyumzug, Monday, February 28: The second large parade, organized by the Wey guild, marks the beginning of the second half of the festivities. Also in this case, the festivities begin in the city center at dawn and continue until the grand parade at 2 p.m.
– Monstercorso, Tuesday, March 1: The big night parade on Güdisdienstag – Shrove Tuesday – concludes the city’s carnival celebrations.
But if you really don’t want to miss anything of the Lucerne Carnival, go to your App store and download the application “Die Vereinigte”, edited by the organizers of the event, which contains dates, info and updated news (only in German!) on all the events of the “fifth season” of the city!
It takes only three days – “drei scheenschte Dääg” (three most beautiful days), as the event is called in the city – but the Basel Carnival certainly has an international reputation and, since December 2017, has been included in UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
Compared to other events in Switzerland, the Carnival here takes place a bit later and traditionally begins on the Monday following Ash Wednesday, when locals and visitors gather at dawn and wait for the fateful phrase “Morgestraich vorwärts marsch” to be uttered. This marks the beginning of Carnival! For 2022, the event will take place from March 7 to 9, but in a limited way due to the covid19 pandemic. Therefore, the big public parades on Monday and Wednesday will not take place, but you can still appreciate the crazy and cheerful atmosphere of the city through one of the other must-see events:
– Morgestraich, Monday, March 7: it’s the event that opens the festivities! The city center is completely darkened and all the lights are turned off to allow citizens and visitors to admire the lanterns of the carnival cliques, on which are painted ironic and allegorical subjects, accompanied by thousands of masked drummers and pipers.
– The “Gässle”: it is not exactly an event, but more a tradition that, during the three days of the carnival, literally takes over the city! During this period, it is common to walk through the alleys of the center marching to the hypnotic rhythm of small and large companies of pipers and drummers. Restaurants and wine cellars will also be open to guests 24 hours a day, serving drinks and traditional dishes.
– Laternenausstellung, starting Monday, March 7: Münsterplatz comes to life and becomes even more fascinating when it gets dark! This is where the painted lanterns of the “clique” – the various groups participating in the event – with their allegories of artistic and sophisticated design are displayed.
Better known as the “Rabadan”, the carnival of Bellinzona is one of the most famous in Switzerland together with Basel and Lucerne. Every year the small town in the Ticino region hosts events, demonstrations and parades that attract many visitors from all over Switzerland and neighboring Italy.
Now in its 159th edition, the Bellinzona Carnival traditionally opens on Shrove Thursday with the handing over of the keys to “King Rabadan”, and ends on Shrove Tuesday. Six days and six nights of pure fun, including parades, Guggenmusik concerts, tug-of-war tournaments, risotto and luganighe offered in the square.
In December, considering the difficult pandemic situation, the Rabadan Committee unfortunately decided to cancel the event. The Bellinzona carnival, therefore, will not take place in 2022. However, following the loosening provided by the Confederation, the Cantonal Government has authorized the extraordinary opening until three o’clock of bars and restaurants that had requested it. Some public places will therefore be able to stay open on Friday 25, Saturday 26 February and Tuesday 1 March, to have fun, celebrate together and listen to the music of the Guggen. What better opportunity to have fun and visit the city and its castles UNESCO heritage?