Karneval in Erfurt, Thüringen, Eastern Germany. There are 3 different words in German for ‘carnival’: Karneval, Fasching, and Fastnacht. Although all 3 refer to the same pre-Lenten observance, each has a slightly different tradition and reflects the customs in different regions. Generally speaking, Karneval is the word used in the Rheinland in North/West Germany, while Fasching and Fastnacht are used further South. The big day for Karneval is Rose Monday; Fasching parades usually take place the day before. One of Germany’s largest parades happens in Braunschweig in Niedersachsen - it’s called “Schoduvel” (“scaring away the devil”) and dates back to 1293. The term Fasching is also seen in Berlin and other parts of Northern Germany. Fastnacht, mostly used in Swabia, is also used in Mainz. Karneval is a newer, more recent (17th century), Latin-based word. It probably comes from carne levare (“away with meat”), relating to Catholic Lent. Carnevale in Venice, Italy is one of the earliest documented carnival celebrations in the world. It featured still-popular traditions, incl. parades and masks. Gradually the Italian Carnevale customs spread North to other Catholic countries. including France. From there, it came to the Rheinland and elsewhere. The 3rd common term for carnival, Fastnacht, refers to the Swabian-Alemannic version, which differs somewhat from Fasching and Karneval, and is found in Baden-Württemberg, Franken (Northern Bavaria), and Hessen. Fasching is used in Bavaria, Berlin, Brandenburg, Sachsen. We sometimes call it the “5th season”.
Although many carnival organizations traditionally begin their official activities on November 11 (11/11) at 11:11 a.m., the real starting date for Karneval or Fasching activities is usually January 6 (Epiphany). It is only following the Christmas and New Year’s season that carnival preparation really gets underway. Organizations begin planning balls and building floats. If there are any events on Nov 11, they are brief and only serve as a mini pre-carnival. Very little happens between Nov 12 and Jan 5. No matter the name, almost all carnival observances end at midnight on Shrove Tuesday. The next day, Ash Wednesday, is the official start of Lent, even if very few people today actually fast until Easter. Historically, the purpose of carnival was to live it up before the start of Lent and its 40 days of gustatory sacrifice.