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Carnival in Tirol - A Farewell to Winter

February 16, 2015
Last Friday, as I was walking the girls home from school, I noticed a grouping of some oddly dressed men.  This looked interesting, and I wondered what was going on...

Turns out, it was the start of the Tirolean celebration of Carnival, or Fasching, as it is known in this region.  Little did I know, but the Tiroleans are very passionate about this time of year!  

As related to the Christian faith, Carnival is the three day period before the start of Lent. Traditionally, no parties or festivities are held and people refrain from rich foods such as meat, dairy, fats, and sugar... so before Lent begins, all of the remaining rich food and drink must be disposed of... so why not have a giant party involving the whole community to consume it all?  This is thought to be the origin of Carnival.

However, there's quite a bit of carnival traditions that date to pre-Christian times.  Some of the more lasting traditions began all the way back during the Middle Ages - parades and masquarade balls, feasting, role reversals, masks, rule-breaking, and temporary social equality.  Other reasons for celebrations include greeting the arrival of the sun and the spring season while driving away the evil spirits and final moments of winter.

In the Tirolean tradition, the city of Innsbruck and its neighboring twenty five holiday villages put on parades on the first Sunday... and instead of each village having a parade, they have come up with a schedule that groups villages and each grouping is responsible for a big parade every three to four years.  Each grouping has wildly unique characters that have evolved over the centuries.  These characters each represent an aspect between winter and spring, light and dark, good and evil, young and old.  Remember, years ago when life was extremely harsh during the long and dark winter months, story telling was how people tried to pass the time.... these stories, and the characters they created, were passed down through the generations and loved by many in Tirol.

So, yesterday the village of Absam hosted their Matschgerer Parade to start off their Fasching.

Below are the characters from their parade:

1. Hexen, the Witches

These witches begin the procession which symbolizes the expulsion of winter, the awakening of Spring, and the cult of the fertilization spirit.  The witches use their brooms to 'turn the place' or the shoes of spectators to signify the turning away of evil.   They can be tricky and offer from their flaskes garlic brandy or salt water instead of the traditional schnapps.  They make space in the parade for the Zottler, Tschaggerler and Tux.

2. The Zottler

Considered the one of the important figures in the Matschgerer, Zottlers are noisy, jump and stomp, and have a particular gait.  They carry a knotted hemp rope that was originally used to pull a horse's harness.  They aid give protection from the dark forces of winter and one smack on the back from a Zottler gives good luck and fertility.

3. The Tschaggerler

Similar to the Zottler, the Tschaggerler also gives a good smack to the back for fertility and luck.  For women, instead of a smack, we get our hair tussled (It happened to me!).  These characters carry a bent willow branch to symbolize the coming spring and often catch a hostage to give good luck.  

 Tschaggerlers get started at a really young age!

More recent additions to the character line up are the Klötzler and Flitscheler.

4. The Flitscheler

The Flitscheler is the most recent addition and represents the once extensive corn cultivation in the village of Absam.  Today, corn is grown on a smaller scale.  The costume consists of dried corn plant leaves and the Flitscheler also carries a willow branch to capture hostages for luck and fertility.

5. The Klötzler

Another recent addition to the Matschgerer, the Klötzler, has little wooden tiles sewn to his suit.  He makes such a sound to draw the attention of the spectators... this was my favorite!

 6. The Fleckler

The Fleckler is an old character who represents the poorer times of the past where people had to sew together bits of fabric to make clothes.  Notice the high top hat.  This 'Pointed Hat' is derived from the 'Zieler-boys' and is a reminder for the old Tirolean tradition of disk shooting.  Until the WWI, the men of the villages practiced their defensive abilities.  Their targets were 'target boys' in the wheel pit... and in order to not shoot these boys as they emerged from the wheel pits, the target boys wore these high hats to make them clearly visible and thus the shooters stopped immediately.

The Flecklers also carry a willow branch to catch hostages to give good luck and fertility.  Once captured, the hostage receives a sip of brandy from a hidden flask.

7. The Flower Man

I can't find any information on this character.  I am sure he's a fairly recent addition.  We called him 'The Flower Man' and he gave us candy from his basket.

8. The Tux

The Tux are the gayous, funny figures in this carnival dance and symbolize youth and the coming Spring.   Accompanied by an accordion player, these guys bring the 'sunshine' to this merry atmosphere.  They are cheerful and youthful and are reminders of the festive drive to bring the cattle down from the mountains in the fall.

Their costumes correspond to the style of dress in the Zillertal, a region in the Alps.

9.  The Spiegeltuxer
The Spiegeltux Head Dress - Front and Back
Another one of the oldest figures in the Matschgerer, the Spiegeltux, is also the most luxurious and expensive. His dance is slow and graceful with arms wide open because his mask is heavy (between eight and twelve kilos).  To support the weight of this mask, the wearer must have strong neck muscles to keep balance and dance at the same time.  They are usually in the center of the parade and are cheerful carnival figures.

On the front of the head dress is a mirror surrounded by ears and flowers.  The mirror is said to blind the forces of evil. The exterior wreath is made of white rooster feathers, while the inner wreath consists of black grouse feathers. Bright decorations and jewelry are found on the surfaces - flowers, pearls, and gold chains.

10. Der Alte, the Old Man

This character embodies a person (or couple) who is getting older in his years.  His movements are slow and cumbersome.  The female counterpart of the couple is not always seen.  Nowadays, this character is seen alone and elderly.

11. The Fasserrössl

The Fasserrössl, located in Hall, were once the great guild of Fassbinder that made thousands of barrels annually to transport salt.  Don't forget, Salzberg, (or salt mountain) is not far from here... and not long ago, salt was king.  The salt barrels were held together by hoops made of wrought iron, and the blacksmiths were the suppliers of Fassbinder. The village of Absam was renowned for their hammers, blacksmiths, and forgers.  

How does that horse relate to salt barrels?

The story throughout Absam is that a noble man came to town and his horse lost its shoe.  He asked a group of blacksmiths if they could make his horse a new one.  They were unable to make it because they were slightly drunk and because the horse would wildly buck at them and throw them to the floor.  Their master would appear and curse at his team and comedic antics would ensue, of course.

12. Der Bock, The Buck

In this village the buck is a horned billy goat.  The scissors on his hat represent the mockery of the tailors' guild.  The story is that a high official ranking officer, Saline, ordered a new dress coat from a tailor.  The tailor's friends then stole the sleeve and nailed it to the front door and door frame.  The tailor, now under much pressure, needed to finish the coat and deliver on time.  He succeeded, but unfortunately, became the ridicule of his friends, who called him the 'sleeve Schneider', or sleeve cutter.

11.  The Four Seasons Mask (Name given by me!)

I couldn't find anything on this guy... but pretty self-explanatory, right?    Hello, Spring!  Goodbye, Winter.

Little did I know, that this weekend I would witness the stirrings of a great mass awakening - of people preparing for Lent, people warding off the evil spirits of winter, or people just happy to welcome the sun's warmth back into their lives! (Like me!!)

For a peek at Carnival around the world, click here.


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