Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Happy Fasching!

When I was a youngster, my mother, who was raised in Germany, would greet us each Tuesday before Ash Wednesday with a joyous "Happy Fasching!" This is the German equivalent of Mardi Gras, and my mother would make us an after-school feast of warm homemade jelly donuts rolled in sugar, which we would eat with great contentment while we contemplated what our evening costumes would be. Fasching, you see, requires some sort of costume or mask, and this is a tradition that goes way back. As the Fasching website reveals,
"In Catholic Bavaria and Austria people celebrate Fasching. The word "Fasching" is assumed to be a derivation of the Middle High German vaschanc or vastschang (Fastschank), the last drink served before the Fast. Historically, during Fasching the lower classes were allowed to wear costumes and masks and to mimic aristocracy and heads of church and state without fear of retribution for mockery. When things got out of hand, the custom was forbidden, for a while anyway. Even Empress Maria Theresia (1717-1780) decreed at one point that masks would no longer be allowed in the streets; whereupon the revelry was moved indoors. This was the beginning of the splendid balls, for which Vienna has become so famous."

Now, Mom is not from Bavaria or Austria--she's from a little West German town called Paderborn, but the tradition was very much alive there and throughout Germany, and therefore it was alive in our Illinois home. So tomorrow I will celebrate Fasching again--my last Catholic hurrah before the beginning of Lent on Wednesday. I haven't picked a costume, but I'm sure I can persuade my children to don one--or at least to eat jelly donuts. :)

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