"Masopust" literally means "meat fast" in Czech and several other slavic languages, but for everyone following along back home, Masopust is the Czech version of Mardi Gras - and man, do they go all out! In the U.S. (especially in Louisiana) we are used to massive parties with masks and beads and food and drinking and lots of parades (to celebrate the day before the start of Lent and the period of fasting from meat and other things we choose to live without), and in the Czech Republic, the atmosphere is very much the same, but with a distinctively Czech twist. Events and festivals for Masopust (or carnival, as it’s called in Prague), occur everywhere around the country, but to experience a world-famous celebration, we travelled to the smaller suburb of Roztoky, just a 20 minute train ride from downtown.
To start, since the Czech winter can be rather gray, Masopust is a celebration of color. And not just bright golds, deep purples, and shining greens, but blues and reds and violets and whites and grays; you name it, the Czechs have it. People arrive at the train station in Roztoky decked out in all sorts of outfits, from graveyard-themed dia de los muertos garb to robes, togas, gypsy hats, animal costumes, clothes that have been through multiple generations with patches and extra sleeves, and countless other disguises. For me, since I didn’t bring any of these things with me, the town even had a free costume rental where we could pick out masks and other outfits to create our Roztoky characters. I was handed a mask that covered my entire face with one that resembled an African tribesman with a giant nose ring and a hat made out of feathers, while one of my friends sported a hug head covering made out of cotton and depicted a character with a rather rectangular mouth and a carrot for a nose (I know, I know… but just wait until you see it)! After picking up some other garments to finish my costume, I headed outside to join the festivities.
(That’s me there on the far left, with the crazy mask!)
Before the main event took place (the crowning of the Masopust queen and the parade through town and into a neighboring village), I had some time to look at all of the food, drinks, and crafts that people were selling in the main square. These included home-made pastries and baked goods, strudels filled with sausage and cheese, a type of Czech biscuit filled with ham, flatbreads with spinach, quiches (yum!), soup cooked in a giant pot, and of course, kielbasa sausage cooked on an open grill. To wash it down, there were stands with beer, wine, medovina (a type of wine made out of honey, served warm), cider, coffee, cappuccino, and apple juice. Over on the other side of the square, people were selling home-made masks and offering to paint our faces with hearts to help us fit in with the crowd. I can honestly say that despite all of our efforts to look like locals in Prague, we fit in the best in our crazy masopust costumes - We even had people taking pictures of us!
When we arrived in Roztoky (around noon), there was only a handful of people in the square, but after we had donned our costumes and explored the stands, by 1:30, it was teaming with people. First, at the stage on one side of the square, juggling performances started breaking out. The jugglers ranged in all ages and performed all kinds of different styles of juggling (some while standing on top of each other or while throwing flaming batons in the air) all to the song of a gypsy clarinet. Soon after their act, though, the town crowned the Masopust queen. Following the ceremony, the queen was lead through the square on a float resembling a horse (and carried by 2 rather strong Czechs who supported the Queen for her entire journey through a field and to the neighboring village). To my surprise, the entire square emptied as everyone followed the Queen up through the town and all over the area in a massive parade that all of us took part in. It felt like I was part of a massive throng of people (like some kind of crazy demonstration), but I have to say I loved every minute of it!
Masopust celebrations would continue all throughout the week (in fact there were several still going on in Prague when we arrived back in the city), but as far as main events go, I can say that I was lucky enough to be right in the middle of all of the action.
Stay tuned for more scenes and videos from Masopust!