THE PERIOD of Carnival begins one day after Epiphany on January 7 and ends on Ash Wednesday (Caput jejunii) on March 9 and this period was known in the central European region, especially in Slovakia, even in the pre-Christian era when there were community processions going from house to house to welcome spring and bid farewell to winter. Eastern Slavonians knew this period, too, and they celebrated it as “maslenice”, a period rich in butter and fat as they wanted to get satiated before the time for fasting during Lent. Traditional meals included various types of doughnuts, fried cakes, strudels and slaughterhouse delicacies.
After Christianity was widely accepted the atmosphere and tone of Carnival changed fundamentally, the TASR newswire wrote. What remained from older times was the processions of masked people that involved rituals with deep meaning – unlike modern times, when these parades are just fun. The carnival masks of the past usually looked like animals and they were meant to be threatening as their role was to chase away ghosts, evil spirits and demons. Those usually included in a procession included Turoň, a huge beast-like creature with horns, as well as bears and wolves. Today, Carnival masks which swap the gender of their wearer are popular and many of them tend to mock the appearance, character or bad habits of the opposite gender.
The Slovak word “fašiang” comes from the German “vast-schane” meaning something similar to “the last drink”. It symbolised the last occasion to revel before the 40 days of Lent, the Christian fasting period that ends with Easter. This is why during the last fašiang days, called “ostatky” – the “last remaining items” – were dedicated to wild fun and mad excesses. From the Great Moravian times, the expression “mjasopust” (meaning meat-lending day) has remained.
The prevailing occupation of people in Slovakia was farming and before spring arrived there was less work so apart from evening “spinning parties” during the Carnival time many weddings were arranged which tended to be longer than today, involving many more people, often the couple’s entire village. The fašiang procession through a village stopped at every house with a ritual meaning – to bring blessings, fortune and good luck to each household and good health to the residents.
Each municipality had its own version of rhymed wishes and some have preserved them to this day. Those wearing masks received some gifts, usually food, and were offered alcohol. Carnival culminated on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday with a community-wide dance with a local band providing lots of music and lots of food to end the carouse. At midnight, the contrabass – which was believed to have given rhythm to the band and the music – was ritually “drowned” to avoid the temptation of any further dancing and merrymaking.