Carnaval has a different connotation, depending on where you are from. Being from the western part of the Netherlands, carnaval has always been something that ‘the south of the country does’. Personally, I have never celebrated carnaval, nor do I have much experience with it. That all changed now that we moved to Luzern in Switzerland; a city where the concept of Fasnacht rules the town for almost a week. This year, we will experience our first Luzerner Fasnacht as inhabitants of the town. Let me quickly explain the basics of the Fasnacht traditions in the city and the program!
The origins of Fasnacht
Luzerner Fasnacht is one of the most unique and vibrant carnivals in Switzerland. The origins of this colorful festival can be traced back to medieval times, when the city of Luzern was still a small, isolated town surrounded by forests and mountains. In those days, the townspeople used to celebrate the arrival of spring with a wild, raucous festival filled with music, dancing, and masks. The tradition was so popular that it quickly spread throughout the region and became an annual event, celebrated with even more parties and excitement with each passing year.
However, the origins of Luzern Fasnacht are not just originating in the celebration of spring and scaring away the winter. Some of its customs can also be linked to old pagan rituals where costumes and marks were used to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck for the coming year. The use of masks and costumes has evolved over the years, but the underlying purpose remains the same – to create a lively, joyful atmosphere that brings people together in celebration. In recent years, the Luzerner Fasnacht has become a popular tourist attractions and you’ll see visitors and locals celebrate the event side by side.
So you should feel welcome during the Luzerner Fasnacht, local or not, just don’t forget to bring a costume!
The program of Fasnacht in Luzern
Thursday February 16 2023 – Schmutzigen Donnerstag
It all starts on Schmutzigen Donnerstag, or Fat Thursday, very early in the morning! At 05.00 in the morning, the Urknall (Big Bang) marks the opening of the Fasnacht. It takes place on the lake by Kapellplatz and is the sign for the city to start the celebrations!
Later that afternoon, the famous Fritschiumzug takes places. During this parade, starting at Luzernerhof in town, you will see the wildest costumes, parade wagons and enthusiastic ‘Guggenmusik’ bands! This is a particular kind of carnaval music popular in Switzerland. Bring your party mood!
The parade goes from Luzernerhof by the lake all the way to Helvetiaplatz in Neustadt.
The rest of the day and evening, the town will be the stage of celebrations, music and lots of drinking.
Friday February 17, Saturday February 18, Sunday February 19
The Fasnacht madness partially calms down in Luzern and moves to surrounding villages. Don’t expect the city to be like any other day, but most of the festivities are focused elsewhere, especially on Friday and Sunday. On Saturday (Rüüdige Samschtig), there will be many smaller events in Luzern as well.
Monday February 20 – Güdismontag
Another parade, the Luzerner Fasnachtsumzug, starts at 13.45 from Luzernhof in the city.
Tuesday February 21 – Güdisdienstag
The big finale takes place on Tuesday the 21st of February, when with the Monstercorso, all Fasnacht organizations of the town unite for one last big parade. The parade starts at 19.30 in the Bahnhofstrasse and then goes over the Seebrücke into town.
Friendly rivalry with Basel, the other Swiss Fasnacht hotspot
Carnaval season in Switzerland is a time celebrating and honouring traditions, but it also brings with it a fierce sense of rivalry between two of the country’s most famous carnaval cities – Luzern and Basel. The two cities have a long-standing rivalry when it comes to their carnavals celebrate, and each year, the residents of Luzern and Basel come together to prove that their city has the best Fasnacht celebration in Switzerland.
What to expect from the Luzerner Fasnacht
While I am personally no expert in the matter, Luzerner Fasnacht is a big deal. You should expect the entire town to not quite be like itself during this period. Quaint streets in the old town turn into incredibly busy dance floors for thousands of people celebrating the event.
You should also expect some noise if you have a hotel in the inner city. The celebrations start very early on some of the days and don’t end until very, very late.
Not quite a fan of carnaval? The best advice (besides giving it a try!) is to avoid the inner city of Luzern during these days. Day trip destinations such as Pilatus, Rigi and the museum of Transport can be visited as normal.
For more information about what to expect and the program, have a look on the website of the Luzern Tourism board.