The first Slavic carnival parade of this season took place at the Veselý Kopec open-air museum, which is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this weekend. The event, once known for cruel merrymaking, now features folk singing, traditional dances, and colorful masks.
These Slavic carnival parades attracts many people each year, where visitors can watch people in masks doing ceremonial dances at each timbered house. The array of the traditional masks is diverse and includes portrayals of Turks, Jews, straw people, a knacker with a mare, chimney sweepers, and shopkeepers.
However, onlookers should be prepared to put up with pranks from the masked participants, such as having their faces anointed with grease.
At the end of the parade, masked participants and onlookers gather for the final ceremony, which is the reading of a carnival testament, recalling the sins committed by the mare. After the reading is done, the mare is ceremoniously killed, and the carnival parade ends with merry dancing from those wearing masks.
In the past, however, the carnival was a much crueler affair.
Many of the current traditions pale in comparison to the former unbridled and often cruel entertainment featured at Slavic carnivals.
The carnival was once a place featuring exuberant merrymaking that allowed for nearly anything. It was a period of indulgence, pig-slaughter feasts, and fat-soaked, golden donuts. It allowed people to hide their other selves behind a mask and let loose, releasing the primal and often dark side of human nature.
Until the second half of the 19th century, for example, one of the most widespread traditions was the decapitating of a rooster, which was meant to be performed by young people.
The practice of throwing a goat off the town hall tower was also popular. This tradition was not common only among rural people, but also among the nobility, which took this tradition one step further and used dogs instead of goats.
Another cruel tradition has even persisted in the south of the Czech Republic, where some people wear a hat with a slaughtered hen on top of it, which is supposed to represent fertility. During the carnival parade, participants also roll in the mud of empty ponds, allegedly to ensure enough fish for the next year.
These annual carnival parades have been held for centuries, with regional differences marking when the parade is celebrated.
Recently, these carnival festivities are also regaining popularity in cities, while in certain regions, the tradition has already been continuously held for centuries. The Slavic carnival parades include feasting and dancing but are light on the unbound and sometimes cruel merriment of the past.
In a nod to the Slavic carnival’s reputation as a time of unbridled merrymaking, some masks symbolize copulation and sex. Generally, however, the celebration is more focused on human as well as livestock fertility.
The Slavic carnival festivities were often criticized by church dignitaries. In their sermons, priests tried, mostly in vain, to turn people away from the tradition.
The Slavic carnival time officially begins on Jan. 7, after the Three Kings Day and ends on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. This year it will end on Feb. 25 when the Lent begins.
Even though the parade should take place at the end of the Slavic carnival, for several decades and due to various reasons, parades became a weekend affair. There is a carnival parade nearly every weekend in February.