Karneval in Aachen is probably my favourite holiday. My friends here do not understand why, probably because their only experience with this holiday is me insisting to celebrate my birthday by forcing everyone to wear silly costumes. I love that Karneval is one of the few holidays with distinct local flavours (Brazilian Carnival, Mardi Gras, Venice Carnival, Fasching etc) a mix of folk and Catholic traditions. However, I find the Iceland version of Karneval pale in comparison to the one I know from Aachen a sad leftover from when Iceland was Catholic (until 1550).
Aachen - Fettdonnerstag (Weiberfastnacht, Fat Thursday)
In Aachen Karneval begins on Thursday at 11:11am. Traditionally this day was the day for women to take charge and throw all the "proper ways" for women to behave out of the window for one day. The only leftover from this origin is that women cut off the end of the neck ties of men (yes, not so subtle). These days it is the beginning of the street Karneval, everyone leaves work at 11:11am and goes out on the street to dance, watch perfomances and celebrate. I costume of course (yes we turn up to work in costumes and no this is not an actual official holiday, but custom to the point that banks for example close at 11:11am).
Iceland - nothing
and I always feel sad at 11:12am that day.
Aachen - the whole weekend after
Parties everywhere, crazy people in costumes everywhere and this:
I know it needs some more explanation. So the area around Aachen was taken over by Prussia after the Napoleon wars. Prussia was a very bureaucratic and militaristic state. The uniforms, voting for a "king of karneval", mock ceremonies political speeches (held standing in a bathtub and using rymes) were all pocking fun at the people in power. Unfortunately some of the biggest Karneval organisation now invite politicians and leaders of Germanys biggest businesses to give them a platform in their celebrations. This is what one sees in TV and it is dreadfully boring with a side of fremdschaemen at the obvious pandering and bad, bad humourless speeches. There are smaller organisations (or non-organisations as the Tropi Garde
) which still is full of witty political commentary made by volunteers and no politicians or business tycoons are invited, but one has to find it.
Iceland - nothing
Aachen - Rosenmontag (Rose Monday)
So I was under the impression that this is an official holiday until I started googeling (or rather using duckduckgo for searching) facts for this post. Public institutions are closed on this day, public transport is running on a holiday schedules. There are parades, which means the city is closed for traffic. The parades include candy being thrown into the crowd of onlookers. We used to come home with bags full of candy as kids.
Iceland - Bolludagur (cream puff day)
Cream puffs are eaten that day. Imagine a donut bun filled with marmalade and cream. Yum, yum, yum, yum!
Aachen - Dienstag
People are going back to work and/or slowly recovering from 4 days of partying. There are still some things going on, but it is winding down.
Iceland - Sprengidagur (bursting day)
Saltkjöt og baunir, túkall
Salted meat and yellow beans, two krónur"
old Icelandic song
This is the day you eat salted meat and yellow peas for lunch until you burst. From 2009 to 2013 IKEA offered salted meat and yellow peas for 2ISK (less then 1 cent) to honour the tradition, especially as a response to difficult situation for many Icelanders after the economic crisis. People ate so much that they puked, so they changed it in 2014 to 995ISK and this year they are selling it for 495ISK, which is still cheap (4€).
Aachen - Aschermittwoch (Ash Wednesday)
As I mentioned above, Karneval has folk as well as Catholic roots. Ash Wednesday, the beginning of lent is when last years palm branches (from Palm Sunday before Easter) are burned and the Ash used to mark the forehead with a cross. For the purpose of Karneval we say
Am Aschermittwoch ist alles vorbei
Ash Wednesday everything is over
The party is over, lent starts and after almost a week of constant partying people feel inclined to fast.
... is confused here. They call it Ash Wednesday (Öskudagur), but this is the day the kids dress up in costumes and go through town from shop to shop to ask for candy, basically mimicking Helloween (not the same as Carnival, people!)