It's difficult to avoid getting caught up in the carnival mood if you are travelling in Switzerland over the next couple of weeks.This content was published on January 29, 2002 - 17:22
Carnival has become more popular than ever and is the biggest event of the year in many Swiss villages, towns and cities.
It kicks off on February 2 in the isolated Lötschen Valley in the Valais Alps when men known as the "Tschäggättä" parade from village to village. They drape goatskin or sheepskin over their bodies, ring bells and hide their faces behind masks.
Typical to the Lötschen Valley, the wooden masks have twisted faces, bulging eyes and sinister wide grins. There's not much known about the origins of the Tschäggättä, but the tradition is said to date back for centuries, to times when the masks and bells helped to drive away evil spirits.
The noisiest carnivals kick off this year on February 7 in Lucerne in central Switzerland and Bellinzona in the Italian-speaking southern canton of Ticino.
King Rabadan presides over the festivities in Bellinzona where the highlight is the Sunday parade of colourfully costumed bands. Lucerne's event begins with a "big bang". The 5am gun salute is the start of several days of round-the-clock partying in the normally sedate town.
Payerne hosts the largest carnival in French-speaking Switzerland, which starts a week later on February 14. The four-day event includes processions of spectacular floats. Costume balls are held throughout the town on the Monday.
Basel boasts Switzerland's best-known carnival, and is usually the last of Switzerland's pre-Lenten festivals. It starts on the Monday (February 18) after Ash Wednesday. The lights are put out at four in the morning, when the "Morgestraich" fife and drum procession marches through the streets.
The Morgestraich launches what the people of Basel consider as the three most beautiful days of the year.
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