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Fasnacht in Helvetia
A Local Legacy

Did you know that West Virginia has its own version of Mardi Gras?

The period before Ash Wednesday is celebrated in New Orleans and elsewhere as Mardi Gras, but in Helvetia, West Virginia, the local people celebrate Fasnacht. Swiss immigrants brought this celebration to Helvetia in the 19th century. Fasnacht is a combination of the celebrations of Mardi Gras and the Winterfest of Switzerland, where Old Man Winter is burned in effigy to speed up the coming of spring. (An effigy is a crude model of a person or thing, usually someone or something that is disliked.) The focus of the holiday in Helvetia is also on scaring away winter.

On the Saturday night before Ash Wednesday, the people of Helvetia put on scary masks and decorate their homes with scary figures to frighten away Old Man Winter. Then they gather at a local restaurant, light colorful lanterns, and walk to the community hall, where they parade around the dance floor as their masks are judged. They dance until midnight, when the fiddler announces it is time to burn Old Man Winter. The prettiest girl gets on the shoulders of the tallest man and cuts down the effigy of Old Man Winter that is hanging in the middle of the room. They drag it out into the snow, rough it up, and throw it onto a bonfire, showing that it's time for winter to end!

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