Some masking customs of German-speaking central Europe : a descriptive survey

Jackson, Susan Helen (1973) Some masking customs of German-speaking central Europe : a descriptive survey. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Abstract

Masking festivals and Carnival celebrations are well known in all Christian civilizations. It is now generally assumed by the European scholars whose writings I have read for this dissertation that they have their origins in old heathen beliefs which have long been forgotten. The principal carriers of masking customs are the young, preferably unmarried men of the communities. In their disguise they try to chase away evil spirits during the longest nights of winter around Christmas time, or welcome spring and new life in general with their various Carnival activities. -- In German-speaking central Europe the best preserved masking customs are found in the Alpine regions of Austria, Switzerland and Bavaria in Southern Germany. Masking customs practised around Christmas time or mid-winter are usually internal affairs, not intended to be tourist attractions. They used to be rather wild, boisterous and noisy affairs where the young men dressed in frightening costumes, equipped with a variety of noise-making instruments, hoped to "cleanse" the countryside from wicked demons. At the same time they tried to encourage fertility by stamping the ground with their feet or by hitting it with the poles they carried. In more recent times these customs have, however, either been taken over entirely by children or lost the element of fear altogether. Masking customs at Carnival time are all tourist attractions. At these occasions young men, often dressed in very elaborate costumes, wearing specially made and beautifully decorated hats march, skip and dance - often in pairs and accompanied by bells - in parades and processions. -- The "Morgenstreich" of Basel distinguishes itself by its timing as it takes place at 4 a.m. on the first Monday and Wednesday afternoon in the Lenten season. The various participating groups each ridicule some local, national or international event not only with the costumes of their drummers and pipers who carry small lanterns on their heads but also with the huge hand painted transparent lanterns inscribed with satirical poetry. -- Newfoundland also enjoys a vivid masking tradition during the twelve days of Christmas when social barriers are broken down and a short period of licentious behaviour is permissible. In Newfoundland where parades have been replaced by the house-visit which focuses on the guessing game, maskers have to wear a complete disguise whereas a partial one often suffices in Europe. Since Newfoundland mummers are not obliged to chase away demons or re-fertilize nature, the noise element is not as important in their activities.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/7873
Item ID: 7873
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves [176]-181.
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > Folklore
Date: 1973
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Mumming; Carnival

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