Carnival in the ‘Mecca of the Upper Valais’

Carnival is the largest annual event in Brig-Glis. It continues centuries of tradition and also offers entertainment for people of all ages.

Carnival (locally known as ‘Fastnacht’) is one of the oldest documented traditions that still lives on – even if much has changed since its beginnings. It is closely connected with the Church’s commandments of abstinence. Even at the height of the Middle Ages, people were supposed to fast (like Jesus had to resist temptations while alone in the desert). Meat, fatty animal products and alcohol were to be avoided after Ash Wednesday until shortly before Easter. All reserves were, of course, used up in the days before. There was plenty of eating, especially from ‘Fat Thursday’ onwards.

11 November – Why does carnival start in November?

The ‘fifth season’, as it is known, is ushered in at 11:11 am on 11 November, another date that is related to a phase of fasting: Advent. In the past, Advent lasted for six weeks instead of four – six weeks is still the case in Milan, which is not far away – so 11/11 was indeed one last opportunity to live it up before 42 days of peaceful reflection in the lead up to Christmas Eve. But the church also called for reflection and looking ahead from Christmas to Epiphany, ‘between the years’ as it is commonly called, which is why 6 January used to mark the beginning of carnival in many places.

The heart of the Upper Valais carnival

Visp may have since received a direct rail connection coming from Bern. But going by reputation, size and diversity, the heart of the Upper Valais carnival clearly beats in the Brig-Glis-Naters agglomeration. After the Türkenbund, carnival societies were also formed in Glis (1966) and Naters (1969) to organise the carnival locally. At about the same time, Guggenmusik also appeared – Brig alone still has four active Guggenmusik marching bands: Rafjifäger, Sombreros, Caracas and Pampers. In the two weeks before Ash Wednesday, they ensure that traditional elements of carnival (such as the huge parades, the carnival newspaper, Schnitzelbank songs and carnival specialities) continue to be cultivated and that there is ample opportunity to celebrate alongside them.

How it all began...

Gätsch: umpteen bars in the old town

Everyone who hails from the Upper Valais gets to know the ‘Gätsch’ from adolescence onwards. The origin of the word ‘Gätsch’ has either been attributed to an original name for the old town district where the Brig carnival takes place, or to an outdated, slightly offensive word. At the Türkenbund association, they call it the ‘Kasbah festival’, since the old town below Stockalper Palace (Kasbah in Arabic = old town or castle) is transformed into a party zone. Thousands of carnival-goers enjoy themselves in umpteen pop-up bars for three free nights starting on Fat Thursday. Brig is and remains the carnival Mecca of the Upper Valais.

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