Carnivals, in traditional masked costumes, await you in Prague and in the more rural regions. Traditional carnival processions flourish in villages and open-air folk-museums, and are returning to the larger towns throughout the Czech Republic.
A Thousand Years of History
Carnival session made up for the forty days of fasting, observed under the Christian tradition before Easter. The traditional delights of this Feast include doughnuts fried in lard and pork delicacies. Carnival customs in the Czech Republic have been documented in writing since the 13th century, though the tradition itself dates back to pagan times.
Carnival processions in the Hlinsko region and in Eastern Bohemia are entered in the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritages. In the villages of Hamry, Studnice and Vortová, this ancient custom has been passed down from generation to generation almost unchanged. For example, the masked costumes are still worn only by men and the Masks have remained traditional for over 250 years.
Carnival celebrations are also organized by the open-air museum in Rožnov pod Radhoštěm, the largest and oldest open-air folk-museum in Central Europe. As well as feasting your eyes on the traditional masked processions or jolly folk-parades, there is also something for your taste buds. On the first Carnival Saturday (22nd February) there is a culinary contest for the best pork delicacy!
The period itself begins after the feast of the Three Kings, i.e., from January 7th. Fixing the date of the final day — Shrove Tuesday before Ash Wednesday — is a bit of a mathematical-astronomical conundrum, counting the beginning of the 40 day fasting period before Easter. This year, Shrove Tuesday (or Mardi Gras) falls on March 4th.
On the pinnacle Tuesday, when the "Masks go to task", you will see the Masks in all their traditional diversity. Some Masks, particularly the animal variety, have a very long tradition and go right back to pre-Christian times. Masks of animals have been used in Europe throughout the Middle Ages, especially during the winter Solstice and the winter months. The processions of Masks usually went from house to house, singing, dancing and teasing the inhabitants in their homes. The Masks were typically rewarded with doughnuts, eggs, smoked meat, but also with grain and coins.
The Fabled World of Masks
Carnivals have a centuries-long history in the Czech Republic. Prague, in the Carnival period, offers the Bohemian Carnevale, which is celebrated in various public spaces, palaces, museums, galleries and theatres. The Programme starts on 20th February and will culminate on Saturday 1st March with the spectacular Baroque masked ball in the Clam-Gallas Palace. It will be held in the full spirit of celebrating the venue’s 300 year anniversary, as well as the 300 years which have elapsed since the first Prague coffee-house opened. Is your Mask at the ready?