The Saxon Carnival

Shrovetide in protestant Saxony?

Saxony as the cradle of Protestantism is not really ideal for the so calles 5th season – Carnival. The name Carnival derives from Latin, meaning “without meat”, an indication that it is the time before the Great Lent, which can be found in the Catholic faith. So how come, that also the Saxons like to dress up? Have the Saxons forgotten, that this is a religious practice and celebrate a secular Carnival? Or can we find the reasons again with our Allfather August the Strong?

Masquerade with history

August was Catholic – but rather for political reasons he sought the Polish crown of Poland and got it changing his religion. His wife Christiane Eberhardine opposed it, stayed protestant, and was only on paper queen of Poland. Yet August was the representative of his state, like a Louis XIV., the “Sun King”, he wanted to be. Thus he grasped at every opportunity to present himself and his state from the most magnificent side. He not only wore a custom, e.g. as Mercurius – he became Mercurius himself. August was the “Party Planner”, nothing was left to chance. Already in 1695 he proved his talents organizing the “Procession of Gods”. Another highlight was the organization of his son’s wedding to the daughter of the German emperor in 1719, for which the Zwinger Palace was created…

During the Carnival of 1722 he displayed the optimization of his planning talents. He single-handly drew scetches of the costumes and made chances when new ideas came up. August also recycled! Costumes were remodeled, chariots reused – even then the State Treasury was not a bottomless pit and even the King of Poland had to watch out for his money!

Evidence of the splendor in Dresden is for example a statement of Johann Michael von Loen, who was in Dresden in 1718:

Dresden seemed in my time a right charming country, which surpassed even the dreams of ancient poets. () There were always masquerades, heroes and love stories, stray knight adventures, economies, hunting, protecting and pastorals, war and peace lifts ceremonies, grimaces, beautiful rarities; in short, everything playeth: One sees to, you playeth with, you will even be played .

This quote is from a publication of the Kupferstichkabinett Dresden of a previous exhibition “To cut a fine figure costume and festivities at the Dresden court.” Even today, the State Art Collection Dresden is one of the main sources of court history. Thanks to August’s desire and the court etiquette to record the splendour of these festivities in prints, we are in the fortunate position to retrace everything.

Carnival in the here and now in Saxony

Whether it’s sheer coincidence that the Saxons’ love for celebrations is in their blood – until today Carnival associations and Royal Couples can be found. There is the Association Sächsischer Carneval e.V., on its website you will also find the current dates of the carnival processions. Interestingly, one finds there places like Wittichenau or Schirgiswalde – up to today these places are more influenced by the Catholics. So Shrove Tuesday is simply still a Christian custom in many places.

Those who expect big processions as in Cologne, will probably be disappointed

In Saxony the carnival is often found as a one-day event as a so called Hall Carnival“. Thus, instead of a procession it’s only a kind of ball, by the way, also in Dresden. And sometimes it is then evident, that we do not take it seriously with the Shrove Tuesday” in ecclesial meaning. A lot of carnival events take place until March – the absolute time of Lent!

Camprowanje -The Zampern. A special feature of Sorbian Culture

Of course worth mentioning is the Sorbian Zampern taking place in the Lausitz, usually held in January by the village youth and- one has to admit a rather alcoholic” event. One thinks himself a number”, then moves from house to house. There the leaders of the procession (in Sorbian costumes) receive eggs and money as donations for the youth. Afterwards, the individual dressed up participants follow – depending on the complexity of the car and subjects. This procession can take far into the late afternoon. Especially feared are clown and chimney sweeps, who smudge the children and of course the ladies with soot. By the way, this is to bring good luck and is not intended as a punishment, even if the children do get a kick out of it, to be hunted by the two. At night everyone enters the ball room and the party continues.

A Shrove Tuesday with consequences

For the city of Dresden, unfortunately, the date of the carnival also has a sad side. February 13, 1945, was a Shrove Tuesday. Children were walking through the city in costumes and laughing. At night, the city was layed to waste in an air raid. Since then, this evening is not marked by any costumes and laughter but by silent tribute and the ringing of church bells at 22:03 o’clock –  the beginning of the attack. Thus, every year it seem Carvical is not over on Ash Wednesday but already earlier.