Today is Shrove Tuesday, known as the Fasching, the Faschtnacht (fasting night), the Entschtanning ("the coming into existence"), or the Uffdredde ("the emergence") which is observed all across Europe and around the world in many different ways. This is the culmination of Carnival in Brazil and Italy. It is Mardis Gras in Cajun Country. Similar costumed events take place in most of Europe. I remember from my time spent in the erstwhile Yugoslavia that Shrove Tuesdsay was the night for a type of tricks-or-treats among the Croatian children.

In the Deitscherei, this is the day upon which we eat some artery-clogging, yet delicious, deep-fried doughnuts called "Faschtnachtskuche," or simply "fastnachts" in English.

So what is the purpose of all these observances? In the Christian context, Fasching is the last celebration before the onset of Lent, which starts on Ash Wednesday tomorrow. The purposes of items like the fastnachts is to consume the remaining lard in the household so it is used rather than wasted during the fasting time. As far as I can tell, the consumption of Faschtnachtskuche, King cakes, pancakes, or similar foods is a tradition stemming from Christianity. It may have its ultimate origin in Judaism's removal of chametz prior to Passover. Deitsch tradition is that Faschtnachtskuche must not be consumed after the onset of Ash Wednesday.

It is virtually indisputable that the costume parades have their roots in Heathen traditions related to the Wild Hunt. In the pre-Christian era, the parades would likely have taken place at various times in early- to mid-February and would have been tethered to the observance that we now know as Groundhog Day.

As with other Wild Hunt depictions (Halloween, King Frost, Belsnickeling/Yule, Mummenschanz, April Fool (possibly), and May Day), the purposes of the parades are a complex weaving of honoring deities, ancestors and compassionate spirits, of placating baneful spirits, and of exerting efforts to hasten the arrival of the growing season. Certainly the Perchtenmaske, or the masks of Berchta, have their roots in Heathen lore; however, the gruesome characteristics may be a result of the condemnation of the cult of Berchta by Catholic authorities in the 15th century.

The Heathen practices were originally tied to lunar calendar observances but eventually became associated with February 2. The timing of Shrove Tuesday comes from the Christian calendar and moves in accordance with the Computus' determination of the timing of Christian Easter.

A hint of the connection between the Heathen events of Groundhog Day and modern Shrove Tuesday may be found in Croatia's creating of the "mesopust," which is a doll made to represent a man who is treated like a scapegoat. This sounds very much like a Butzemann, except the Butzemann is honored rather than burdened, and the Butzemann takes vanquished habits and negative energies with him in fire on Allelieweziel (Halloween). While the Butzemann is typically created for Groundhog Day, it is not uncommon to have his creation occur later in the month. It is quite possible that the traditions of the mesopust and the Butzemann stem from the same traditions.

In the Deitscherei, another aspect of the Fasching is that the last person in the household to arise in the morning is deemed "the Faschtnacht," "der Faas," "der Faschingkluck," or myriad names. When I was growing up, within our household, the last child to arise in the morning of the Fasching had to do one extra chore by the end of the day. Customarily, in many Deitsch households, the last child has to tolerate teasing by his siblings all day long.

The same applies to the last child to arrive at school on Shrove Tuesday.

In the past, there were some rather elaborate teasing rituals involving the clucking sound of chickens in school. As the children arrived, the girls would cluck like hens and the boys would crow like roosters. As another child would arrive, he/she would receive instructions that he could not cluck or crow like the others until yet another child arrived. Instead, the last child would have to call out, "Hallo Faas!" to the next arriving child (see Alfred L. Shoemaker's Eastertide in Pennsylvania, Stackpole Books, 2000, pp. 1-2).

If a child erred and clucked or crowed, there were penalties involved, particularly having to give a kiss to a member of the opposite gender. Girls, in particular, were encouraged to kiss any boy who caught their fancy.

The clucking, crowing, and kissing sound like they were originally part of some sort of fertility-related ritual. Speaking as a teacher in the post-modern era, I can say that I would be more than a little bit disquieted by my students engaging in this behavior. However, the tradition was clearly in effect well into the 20th century, and aspects of it may well live on in parts of the Deitscherei even now.

Enjoy your Faschtnachskuche, everyone!


Interesting note about Groundhog Day and Bears

Deitsch folklorist Don Yoder postulates that the song, "The Bear Went Over the Mountain," may have its origins in Germanic traditions similar to Grundsaudaag or Groundhog Day. Groundhog Day is known to have its roots in the behavior of badgers in Germany. In some German-speaking areas, however, the foxes or bears were seen as the weather prognosticators. When the behavior of the bear was considered, the belief was that the bear would come out of his lair to check whether he could see "over the mountain." If the weather were clear, the bear would return to his lair for six more weeks. If it rained or snowed, however, the bear would put an end to hibernation and demolish his lair (Yoder, Don (2003). Groundhog Day. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, pp. 52-53).

The Bear Went Over the Mountain

The bear went over the mountain,
The bear went over the mountain,
The bear went over the mountain,
To see what he could see.

And all that he could see,
And all that he could see,
Was the other side of the mountain,
The other side of the mountain,
The other side of the mountain,
Was all that he could see.

The bear went over the river, 
To see what he could see.
And all that he could see,
Was the other side of the river,
The other side of the river, 
Was all that he could see.


Der Grundsaudaag

To read this post in Deitsch, please visit Deitscherei.org. :)

Groundhog Day is a multi-faceted observance, both in the Elder tradition of Braucherei and in Urglaawe. February 2 presents us with a thinner "veil" among the realms/worlds, and that the first of the land spirits/wights take this opportunity to return from the Wild Hunt. The groundhog represents the "otherworldly messenger," who (in a manner similar to Ratatask on Yggdrasil) runs through his burrow, which has openings in each of the nine worlds. Thus, the groundhog brings reports from the other worlds.

For an agricultural people, the upcoming weather would be of primary importance, which is perhaps the root of the reason that the groundhog and his weather prediction has lived on. However, this is typically only one small part of his message. Anyone who has ever been to a Grundsau Lodge on February 2 will know that the groundhog delivers numerous prognostications. Granted, in the Lodges, most of these are in jest, but journey-work done on February 2 or other, more esoteric works, are said to be more revealing.

Second is the tradition of February 2 celebrating the Hearth goddess, who would be Frigg, as well as feminine creative energies. Female ancestors are also celebrated on Feb. 2, which is consistent with some other Heathen groups' Disir blots at this time of year. As a result of these creative energies, the Butzemann (an activated scarecrow) is ceremonially given birth (more technically, he is given "rebirth" through the remnants of last year's crop). There are ceremonies that Urglaawe has inherited from Braucherei for his rebirth and appointment as protector of the land. He sticks around until he is burned sometime between the autumn equinox and Allelieweziel (Halloween). There are some great stories about what happens after Allelieweziel.

One other thing that is to happen on February 2 in relation to Frigg: we are to clean out our hearths, fireplaces, candlestick, or whatever place we use as our primary spot for fire. After the site or item is cleaned, we are to light a new fire using birch. If there is a central hearth through a community celebration, ember pots may be used to take the new flame from the central fire to the home hearth.

The cleaning of the Hearth is the beginning of the time of Spring Cleaning. We have from now until Walpurgisnacht (April 30) to get our homes in order in preparation for Holle's return. :)