German Karneval is very different from American Carnival and the New Orleans Mardi Gras, although the New Orleans Mardi Gras beginnings came from the German Karneval.
German Karneval began in the 16th century in Rhineland and is one of the oldest customs in Germany. The word “Carneval” actually is composed of two Latin words “carnis” (meat) and “vale” (farewell). It refers to people eating meat before fasting for the Lenten season.
Although a Prinz is crowned in November, the main Karneval season is traditionally between Christmas and Lent with the main events being held within the two weeks prior to Ash Wednesday.
It was historically a period of time when there was not much work to be done on the farms and urban business communities and therefore was a good time for feasting celebrations. During these celebrations, it allowed the common folk to mock politicians without fear of retribution as revelers took to the streets wearing political caricature costumes. They partied for days until Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. As a matter of fact, political costumes are still worn to this day during Karneval celebrations.
Even today, in some areas of Germany, towns will basically shut down for 4 or 5 days in a row before Ash Wednesday, to take to the streets, bars, and events to party. The last event of the season is Rosenmontag; also know as “Live it up Monday”.
Although Karneval traditions can vary from city to city, there are a number of things you will see while participating in the Rheinischer Verein Chicago Karneval:
- Elfer rath: The committee of 11(eleven) acts as the main officials of Karneval events. They appear in their colorful costumes that include a wildly decorated hat that holds fancy feathers.
- The Royalty of the season: The most common Royal is a Prinz accompanied by a Prinzessin. Their costumes will also be wildly colorful and fancy, reflecting the outfits worn by past official Royalty. Each will wear their metals of honor called Ordens.The Prinzengarde, a group of decoratively dressed men and women, will serve as the Royal Guard for the Prince. They will always be present and ready to get the party going.
- Show and Dance performers: During events, you will get to experience the talented Junior and Senior Amazonen Corps dancers, in addition to the Fanfaren Drum and Bugle Corps. They will entertain the crowds with their talented dance numbers and creative drum and bugle songs.
- People having fun: Karneval is a time to have fun with friends and family by dressing up, either in fancy dresses or fancy costumes, dancing, and enjoying a bit of drinking! It is a feast of celebrations!
Why the Number 11?
It is number 11 that symbolizes merry making and unity in Karneval. It symbolizes equality of all jesters. Under each jester hat (“Karneval” hat, whether club or otherwise) should be a “Jeck” who is an independent person with equal rights. The number “1” alone stand for an individual with his or her own mind and character, etc. Two number ones next to each other (11) stand for equality, as both are equal. There are no class differences in “Karneval”. In Germany the number 11 has political reference, according to authoritative interpretations in Cologne. Since the French Revolution, the number “ELF”(11) stand for E = Equality, L = Liberty or Freedom, and F = Fraternity (Brotherhood).