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Helvetia celebrates Fasnacht

Last feast before Lent attracts visitors looking to scare off Old Man Winter

March 7, 2011
By Beth Christian Broschart, Special to The Inter-Mountain

The cold rainy weather did not deter the crowd that gathered in Helvetia this weekend to celebrate Fasnacht, the last celebration before Lent.

Visitors donned homemade paper mache masks meant to scare off Old Man Winter as the Lampion parade made its way through town. Swiss Flags were presented to those masks judged best in the festivities.

Willie Lehmann's grandmother owns The Hutte, a traditional Swiss restaurant in Helvetia.

Article Photos

OLD?TRADITION — Fasnacht was kicked off on Saturday with a parade through Helvetia to the community hall for a dance that was held for most of the night. Villagers first celebrated Fasnacht — the last feast before lent — in 1875. (CU and The Inter-Mountain/Grant Jones)

"Each year it is great to watch my grandmother make her mask for Fasnacht," explained Lehmann. "In December she sets up an area in her restaurant by the wood stove and begins to build her newest masterpiece.

"At first it always looks like a big white ball but it always comes together in the end, and is always different from the previous ones.

"Lots of work goes into making just the right mask."

His favorite mask of all- time was one his grandmother made that was a rat with an extension cord for a tail.

"It was a really cool mask that everyone thought looked just like a huge rat," he said. "It's still on display at The Hutte."

After the Lampion parade, everyone gathers at the dance hall where Old Man Winter hangs from the ceiling. Musicians gather to play for the masquerader's ball.

Helvetia resident Leslie Betler White was dancing and having fun with her family and friends.

She feels Helvetia is a great place to have grown up.

"My parents brought me and my siblings to Fasnacht when we were young," said White. "We danced and had fun and ate doughnuts in anticipation of our upcoming fast.

"The dances we do here are traditional Swiss circle dances and everyone has a great time."

White went on to explain that many of the people at Fasnacht are from other areas that come to help the residents of Helvetia celebrate the end of winter. "Many are college students that learned about the celebration from the late Rogers McAvoy, a WVU professor, who retired here in the 1980's," White said.

It's tradition that the tallest man at the dance cut Old Man Winter down from the ceiling.

At the stroke of midnight, Old Man Winter is freed from his spot high above the dance floor and is carried to the town square where a roaring bonfire is burning. He's tossed into the fire among chants of "spring" with hopes that we will not see Old Man Winter for many months.



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