Helvetia’s annual Fasnacht celebration is Saturday, March 2.  Events begin at 10:00 am and conclude at 1:00 am on March 3 with the burning of an effigy of “Old Man Winter.”

Fasnachts (doughnuts)Photo Credit: Darius Dzinnik©123RF.com

A Swiss celebration, Fasnacht is celebrated in Switzerland and across Europe and is rooted in elaborate costumes, parades, music, and revelry to bid winter goodbye and welcome spring.  The derivation of the word Fasnacht is German meaning “to fast,” because the celebration generally occurs just prior to Lent and is also the name of a deep-fried doughnut served to people as a last sweet treat just before Lent. Fasnacht is also referred to as “Fat Tuesday.”  It’s a European time of indulgence comparable to Mardi Gras in the US.

The earliest known record of Fasnacht was in 1376. Due to a horrific earthquake in 1356, according to Basel.com, some history was lost.  However, “some sources trace these activities to pre-Christian times when pagan tribes of northern Europe celebrated the passing of winter in boisterous rites of eating, drinking, and noise making,” according to the Fasnacht Family website. 

“Fasnacht is as old as Helvetia’s founding,” said Clara Lehmann, President of the Helvetia Restoration and Development Organization. 

The first Fasnacht celebration in Helvetia “took place in 1869 when the first settlers brought traditional Catholic traditions in preparing for Lent which meant that they ate fatty foods before denying their bodies because of their faith.” 

Lehmann described the first Fasnacht festivities as “informal” and taking place in homes where families ate rosettes, which are Swedish doughnuts or pastries.  Next, according to Lehmann, children began going door to door, “almost like Halloween,” to get rosettes from neighbors.  “In 1967, she continued, “families were sad about losing traditions and wanted to bring in tourists for a community event, so they combined Winter Festival with Fasnacht.” Winter Festival is a Swiss festival with Pagan roots that wards off evil spirits and celebrates life that evolved into a festival to ward off winter and invite spring.

During the event you can enjoy browsing in the store and museum and sample renowned Swiss food at Red Hall or dine in the famous Hutte Restaurant serving sample plates of authentic Swiss cuisine allowing visitors to have a taste of everything on the menu for $22 per plate. 

New this year, according to Lehmann, Buckhannon’s World’s End Restaurant will be selling carnival style food including bratwurst and hot chocolate, which can be easily eaten on the go.  According to the groups Facebook site, the World’s End Restaurant will feature sandwiches accompanied by Prommes Frittes (French Fries).  Menu items include Swhenkbraten (Grilled Pork Sandwich), Schweineschnitzel (Fried Pork Sandwich), Schweinefleisch Und Kohl (Braised Pork and Cabbage Sandwich), Beirocks (German Pocket Sandwich), Donor Kabab (German “Gyro”), Sauerbraten Hoagie (Chuck Roast Hoagie). Each meal costs $12.

Another exciting addition this year, per Lehmann, is the participation of the Director of WVU Percussion Department, George Wills, who will be joining his percussionists from WVU during the Open Mic session.  This percussion group will also lead the parade, which is set to begin at 8:30 p.m. 

The parade includes traditional costumes with large, artistically designed, often forbidding, masks.  The event wraps up at midnight by burning an effigy of “Old Man Winter” cut from the rafters of the community hall and carried on shoulders of partakers to the bonfire and ceremoniously burned to signify the end of winter. 

Guests are invited to bring a sleeping bag and stay in the Red Hall for a mere $10 per person and warm clothing is recommended.  Limited to 30 people.

The full list of activities includes the following:

10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. Helvetia Mask Museum and General Store are Open in Kultur Haus Helvetia.

3:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. Open mic and food. Star Band (Red) Hall.

11:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. Sampler plate served all day. Hutte Restaurant.

8:30 p.m. – 8:45 p.m. Lampion (candlelight) parade – Star Band Hall to Community Hall.

8:45 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. Judging costumes – Prizes – Community Hall.

9:00 p.m. – 12:00 p.m. Masked Ball – Community Hall. $10 per person.

12:00 a.m. – 1:00 a.m. Burning Old Man Winter – outside Community Hall.

If you have never visited Helvetia for Fasnacht or any occasion, you really must.  Nestled just across the Randolph County border, Helvetia is a small, picturesque Swiss village. According to the Helvetia website, “The original Swiss and German settlers arrived in 1869 and their descendants remain. Due to the isolation of the area, the traditions of dance, music, food, and holidays have survived through the generations.” Swiss immigrants left Switzerland due to poor crop production and proceeded to settle in what is now Helvetia, the name being Latin for Switzerland. 

Feature Photo Caption: BASEL , SWITZERLAND – MARCH 08 : Participants in the Basel Carnival in Basel , Switzerland on March 08 2017. The Basel carnival has been listed as one of the top local festivities in Europe —Kobby Dagan ©123RF.com