top of page
  • Kati

Masopust


Where to go in Europe Masopust

A few of the interesting characters one can meet at a Masopust celebration, including Death, Bacchus, and Fast

We are all familiar with the celebrations of Carnival: parades, masks, extravagant costumes, feasts, debauchery. This festival occurs in February or early March and is found all over the world, especially in countries with a large Catholic population since it is meant to fall in line with the time immediately preceding Lent. The Czech Republic has its own version of Carnival with a bit of a twist, and it’s called Masopust.

Where to go in Europe Masopust

The procession makes its way through the village of Roztoky

The Masopust festival has been around as early as the Middle Ages and is still widely celebrated in the Czech Republic today. Masopust’s name comes from Old Czech and can be translated literally as “meat fast” (the etymology is similar to that of the Latin-derived Carnival- “farewell to meat”). It is a time to consume as much meat, drink as much alcohol, and be as carefree as one may please. This was often the last time for working people to be able to eat well before the arrival of warmer weather as stocks from the previous harvest run low, and any reserves of meats and fats such as butter and lard needed to be eaten during this period since they would expire in the coming spring.

Where to go in Europe Masopust

Gathering in Roztoky's main square

The traditional Catholic symbolism behind Carnival is not the festival’s biggest influence (although they share the timing around Lent), as Masopust has some distinctly pagan origins that set it apart from other celebrations of the Lenten season. It is thought that Masopust actually began as a way to honor and worship Bacchus, god of wine, fertility, and agriculture (the Roman counterpart to the Greek Dionysus). Another important function of Masopust was to prepare the lands for the coming spring. Winter was thought to be ruled by spirits of darkness, cold, and death, and these spirits would have to be completely banished before the new season could arrive and bring with it warmth, sunlight, and fertility. To drive out these spirits, people feasted, drank, danced, and, at the height of the celebrations on Fat Tuesday, participated in masked processions. In its earliest forms, Masopust was celebrated not only just before the time of Lent, but as early as Epiphany (January 6).That’s about two months of celebrating! Today, it is more common for the main events of Masopust to occur not on Fat Tuesday, but on the nearest weekend in order to accommodate work schedules.

Where to go in Europe Masopust

Bacchus, Roman god of wine, fertility, and agriculture

After hearing about Masopust, it didn’t take much convincing for me to want to check it out for myself. Looking at different Masopust celebrations near Prague, the most authentic seemed to be located about 15 kilometers north in the village of Roztoky. According to the town’s website, Masopust in Roztoky started out qutie small, only involving around 20 people passionate about the traditions and celebrations of the festival. However, the Roztoky Masopust has grown since its beginnings and is now visited by thousands of people each year, including locals, travelers, photographers, folklorists, and anthropologists. Roztoky is proud of the fact that its Masopust continues to be operated almost completely by enthusiastic volunteers even as its numbers keep growing.

Where to go in Europe Masopust

At the Roztoky Chateau, the starting point for the procession

Roztoky’s Masopust is perhaps most well-known for its masked procession to the Holý Vrch hilltop, an area thought to be one of the earliest settlements in Bohemia. Those trekking with the procession wear festive costumes, ranging from the thrown together to the extravagant while eating and drinking as much as they please. It’s a chance for people to indulge and come together in the spirit of Masopust. Roztoky’s site reads, “Masopust connects us and enables us to live now, but slightly different than usual; to be someone else, somewhere else, in another time.” As the Roztoky procession arrives at Holý Vrch, so do the processions of the nearby villages Únětice (famous for their microbrews) and Suchdol.

Where to go in Europe Masopust

Procession marching uphill to Roztoky's main square

This year, Roztoky took place on the 25th of February. I grabbed a couple of friends (hey, Tom and Dani!) and we started our roughly 25 minute trip to Roztoky at the Masarykovo Nádraží train station in Prague, arriving in Roztoky around noon. Leaving the train station, we headed to the Roztoky Chateau, where the events before the procession were to take place. On the Chateau grounds, we saw people preparing their costumes as well as vendors selling masks, beer, and food.

Where to go in Europe Masopust

Preparing the mystical Klibna costume

Where to go in Europe Masopust

The Sweepers getting ready for the beginning of the celebrations

A typical food to eat during Masopust is a kind of small sugared doughnut, and these could be found in barrels being wheeled by costumed people throughout the festival. The usual suspects of Czech street food were also present: sausages, smoked meats, breads, and warm soups to help counter the February cold. A scan of the area helped us to find the costume room. Here, visitors could go in and be outfitted in clothing suitable for the celebrations. I was given a sparkly purple cape, a ring of tinsel around my head, and a mask decorated with flowers and… sheep!

Where to go in Europe Masopust

Masopust runway-ready thanks to the costumers

At 1pm, it’s time for the ceremonial tapping of the cask. Each year, the Únětice brewery crafts a special pivo (beer) for the Masopust celebrations. This year, the beer was Únětický Masopustní Bock, a 16-degree mixture of light and dark beer. This is no ordinary cask-tapping, however, as it first needs to be “christened” by Klibna. According to Roztoky, Klibna is “something between a mare, a giraffe, and an aluminum ladder,” and she plays an important role throughout the festivities of Masopust. This christening of the beer is one of her first duties of the day. Witness this interesting cermony:

After the ceremony, the line for pivo was quite long. Luckily, we had jugglers, musicians, dancers, and a whole host of costumed folks to keep us company along the way.

Where to go in Europe Masopust

Death was one of my favorite costumes. Together, Fast and Death are traditionally the two tallest Masopust costumes

Where to go in Europe Masopust

Preparing a pint of the Únětický Pivovar (brewery) special brew for Masopust - the Masopustní Bock

Now it is time for the coronation of the Queen of Masopust. Each year, a Queen is chosen to rule over the town and the Masopust festival. After being crowned by her predecessor, the Queen is outfitted with special robes and will ride Klibna all the way to the top of Holý Vrch. It is therefore important that the role of Klibna be played by very strong individuals. This year, Sweetest Hairy was crowned the new Queen of Masopust by her predecessor, the Queen of the Wild. Also present was Queen Emerita, known as the first Queen of Masopust. Legend tells us that long ago, Queen Emerita would search for a Masopust King, usually the heaviest and strongest man in the town. However, she had too many failed attempts at trying to find the perfect Masopust King, and eventually decided to pass on the title rather than continue her search. Together, Queen Emerita and each year’s new Queen will lead the procession to Holý Vrch.

Several queens of the past prepare for the coming of the new queen, Sweetest Hairy. Queen Emerita is on the far right.

Where to go in Europe Masopust

The Queen of the Wild (Masopust Queen 2016) prepares to crown Sweetest Hairy as the new Queen of Masopust

Queen Sweetest Hairy thanks her adoring crowd

With the end of the coronation comes the beginning of the procession. Queen Hairy was placed onto Klibna amid cheers from the crowd, signalling that it was almost time to leave the Roztoky Chateau.

Where to go in Europe Masopust

The beginning of the march

Where to go in Europe Masopust

Queen Sweetest Hairy and her charming pink beard lead the procession

Before the procession could start its journey, the way had to be cleared by Sweepers. The Sweepers are a group of women with brooms who use them to sweep away not only the crowds to get out of the way, but also the pesky spirits of winter so that springtime may come. After the Sweepers have made room, the procession takes off.

Where to go in Europe Masopust

The Sweepers make way for the Queen

As we mentioned earlier, the procession is led by Queen Emerita and her new successor, along with a percussion band. After them comes a wide variety of costumes, such as skeletons, faces with over-exaggerated features, a wide variety of animals, and a butcher, along with more bands and a paper mache tank that shoots confetti. Some of the costumes traditionally associated with Masopust include the god Bacchus, Fast and Death (the two tallest costumes), the stork and the crow (in the Czech Republic, storks bring only baby boys- baby girls are brought by crows!), bears and a bear tamer (women dance with the bear, men try to wrestle with it, and the tamer keeps it from getting too wild), and monkeys (caution is advised around these feisty creatures who demand money and other trinkets).

Where to go in Europe Masopust

The Bear plays an important role in the meeting at Holý Vrch

Where to go in Europe Masopust

The stork carrying a baby boy

Where to go in Europe Masopust

Where to go in Europe Masopust

The monkeys were among the favorite characters of children

Leaving the Chateau, the procession goes through the town of Roztoky, continuing through the train station and winding streets before coming to its first stop at Roztoky’s main square at the top of a small hill. Here, Klibna performs a dance before the procession continues on its journey to Holý Vrch.

Where to go in Europe Masopust

Climbing to get a good view when a skeleton informs me I'm in her spot

Where to go in Europe Masopust

Heading to Holý Vrch

The walk to Holý Vrch took almost three hours(!), but it was definitely worth it to get to see the beautiful countryside as well as views of Prague in the distance.

Where to go in Europe Masopust

Bohemian countryside

Where to go in Europe Masopust

Marching from Roztoky to Holý Vrch

Where to go in Europe Masopust

Beautiful Prague in the distance

Once we finally reached the top of Holý Vrch, it was time for the 3 processions of Roztoky, Únětice, and Suchdol to meet. The groups formed a circle on the hilltop and the villages’ “bears” began to wrestle- a friendly competition meant to bring fertility to each village. After the bears had done their part, the circle was joined. Remember Klibna the magical horse? We learned that the Masopust has a special energy and that this energy comes from Klibna. In order for her to give her energy, the villagers must kill her. We were told not to worry though, because Klibna dies willingly and humanely by "shockwave" so that the next Masopust may carry on when Klibna is reborn.

Where to go in Europe Masopust

The three villages join together to celebrate

The several bands now present played and the people of each village joined together to dance and sing. I’m not going to lie- being present for this ceremony felt very cool. It was almost like we were being allowed to look in on something secret. For some of these moments, festival-goers were even asked to keep their cameras put away. The setting sun and the dancing lights from fire jugglers only helped to make the fascinating scene before us even more mystical.

Where to go in Europe Masopust

Where to go in Europe Masopust

Though the end of the dance atop Holý Vrch marked the end of the ceremonies of Masopust, it did not mark the end of the celebrations! Near Holý Vrch, a tent was put up so that the music, eating, drinking, and general merrymaking could continue into the wee hours of the morning. We went with the crowd to the tent in order to return our costumes and have one more Únětický Masopustní Bock before returning back to Prague.

Where to go in Europe Masopust

Where to go in Europe Masopust

Attending the Roztoky Masopust is a one-of-a-kind adventure that I would recommend to anyone visiting the Czech Republic in Februrary. Be sure to check out Roztoky’s website for the festival here to see more photos of Masopust from 2017 as well as previous years, and to have a heads up for the dates of 2018’s Masopust and the many more to come!

Where to go in Europe Masopust

120 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page