It’s Carnaval…in Switzerland?

Events, Nightlife, Things to Do, What's New — By Sonja Holverson on March 1, 2011 at 8:21 pm

Even though I live in Protestant Suisse Romande (the French speaking region) where there is no Carnaval, the nearby Catholic areas of Switzerland are celebrating Carnaval (Fasnacht in German) this week and I plan to be there. It’s one of the few times, that you will see so many Swiss get completely crazy. As most of you know, Carnaval is a giant festival that comes just before Lent (which is about fasting quietly and which happens 6 weeks before Easter). So before Lent, it seems anything goes. The one in Lucerne draws more than 10’000 visitors. OK, it‘s not Rio!

Fasnacht in Switzerland: image courtesy of

From Lausanne the closest Catholic town with a Carnaval festival is Châtel-St-Denis, also the gateway to Les Paccots, a huge recreation and rural area for great hiking and skiing. It’s only about 20 minutes away from Lausanne but culturally much much further away. This is where my pals and I go for Carnaval as well as some of the best fondue in the country.

Carnaval in Châtel-St-Denis: Image courtesy of

The festivities start this Thursday evening March 3 and last until late Sunday Night March 6, 2011. Thursday evening starts with the Grand Loto Fribourgeois with about $7’700 worth of prizes. Friday night the community has some traditional rituals and storytelling followed by the Grand Ball. Saturday afternoon is the mask contest for children followed by their parade with Guggensmusik (fanfare band) with their helium balloon releases at the end. The Saturday evening Carnaval festivities will have more entertainment as well as Guggensmusik while the adults have their best Carnaval mask contest.

Carnaval in Switzerland: image courtesy of

While enjoying our fondue at my favorite restaurant in the town, Tivoli, I’ve seen costumed musicians and followers from other neighboring Catholic towns “invade” Châtel-St.-Denis and parade right into the restaurants, much to the delight of the patrons. The place turns into a lively cabaret and you suddenly have new friends!

Sunday morning (yes, morning), the party starts again with an aperitif (local wines, no doubt) offered by the town to everyone. In the afternoon another bar will be opened by the Confrérie de Carnaval (Carnaval brotherhood) to accompany the humoristic costume parade of different individuals and groups walking along with the Guggensmusik.

End of winter. Burning the “Bonhomme d’hiver”, image courtesy of the Dadi Family

Then there is the very Swiss burning of the “Snowman”, the bonhomme d’hiver which as you may guessed is not made of snow but a giant colorful wooden figure that turns into a bonfire again accompanied by more Guggensmusik and frivolity. This also marks the end of winter (hopefully) and the beginning of spring although we all know it will snow again sometime before May.

Châtel-St-Denis Celebrates: image courtesy of

Then it’s off to the Grand Masked Ball Sunday night with more entertainment and music until…..well, whenever.

For more information on Carnavals around the world see

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Image upper right hand corner courtesy of

Tags: “Châtel-St-Denis”, “Les Paccots”, Carnival, Catholic, fondue, Guggensmusik, Lent, Lucerne, Protestant, Swiss, Switzerland