Not far (as the crow flies) from my home in French Creek, WV, is the town of Helvetia. Yes, that would be a SWISS village in the heart of Appalachia. We used to go there once in a while to enjoy the Sunday buffet, or Bernerplatte. Every time I smell bay leaves cooking with meat I long for that buffet. They also made the most amazing Swiss cheese. (It’s still pretty good, but not as good as when the making of it was unregulated.)
But the food isn’t our topic today. It’s Fasnacht, which was held last Saturday. Fasnacht is a sort of Swiss Mardi Gras held on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday. And it’s all about ushering OUT winter. There’s a great deal of fried food to eat (gotta use up that fat before Lent), festive decorations, dancing, an effigy of Old Man Winter on display, and the most wonderful/awful masks.
At dark, the residents and visitors don their handmade, papier-mache masks and parade to the community hall where they dance until midnight when Old Man Winter is cut down, dragged out side, and burnt.
Of course, burning the effigy is largely symbolic and doesn’t seem to actually kill off winter. The HelvetiaWV.com website includes a disclaimer, “The warming effect is not immediate and visitors should wear plenty of clothing so they can enjoy the outdoor activities.”
But it’s all about hope, right? And as the weather continues it’s manic-depressive lunge toward spring, I think we could all use a little hope of warmer days to come. Down with Old Man Winter!