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Know these typical masks and costumes at Swiss carnivals

Absurd clowns with large noses, wicked witches and Steampunk aliens: you will be able to spot some of the strangest masks and costumes at Swiss carnivals…

Part of the uniqueness of each carnival tradition in Switzerland are the costumes and Larven (masks). In the distant past, carnival traditions with their unruly behaviors were regarded as ungodly, even devious. As a way of protesting against the oppression of the catholic church, people would dress as jaspers or devils.

Carnival characters walking the old town of Basel during carnival

You would be surprised to find out how vastly different the costumes are across Switzerland. It seems as if each town, village and valley has their own set of masks and costumes. In many instances, these props are being handed down from one generation to another. But in places like Basel, it is common to pick up contemporary topics as inspiration for the year’s carnival outfits.

Here are some of the most typical masks and costumes at Swiss carnivals:

Basel

Costumed musicians usually move around Basel in small groups called Cliques. Other groups may dress up alike to showcase a contemporary theme (or to mock a politician).

The Waggis character with his large nose and oversized wooden clogs is easy to spot. They come in all shapes and sizes, too: some are real-world characters walking the streets of Basel during carnival. Others may be in the shape of Christmas ornaments or printed on kitchen towels.

Waggis character at the Basel carnival

The Alti Dame character portrays a senior lady, often sporting a Baroque dress. Keep in mind that at the Basel carnival, unlike in other parades, it is only the official participants who are supposed to dress up - spectators better wear street clothing, or else…

Alti Dame characters walking the old town during the Basel carnival

Bellinzona

Every year, the carnival association elects a king - although the same person can remain king for more than one year in a row. Starting on Fat Thursday, His Majesty King Rabadan is the official holder of the city’s keys which are handed to him by the mayor of Bellinzona. Following his speech are five days and five nights of party...

King Rabadan wears a red velvet robe and a crown. With his nail-shaped scepter in hand, he looks like a true royal. You can best spot him on Fat Thursday during the key handover ritual or during Sunday’s Grand Parade when he rides aboard his float.

King Rabadan at the Carnival in Bellinzona

Bern

The carnival in Bern has one main act you cannot miss: a bear! This carnival character is essential for it is synonymous with Bern. You will be able to spot the realistic looking bear with its frightening fangs at different occasions: on Fat Thursday during its release from hibernation at Käfigturm, as well as during the various parades.

Costumes at Swiss carnivals: The iconic bear at the Bern carnival

Schwyz

The Blätz character is a type of Harlekin with a costume influenced by Italian fashion of the time. Always in motion dancing the Narrentanz, this iconic figure wears the Schellengeröll belt and carries the pinewood broom.

Among several other characters, the Hudi depicts a gossipy lady in Biedermeier era clothing.

Splügen

The Pschuurirolli are frightening creatures wearing hats made of animal pelts. Their belts carry small bells which they use to chase children and young women. Once captured, the Pschuurirolli will smear their victims’ faces with a special cream made of shoeshine and coal.

You are wondering who in the world is underneath the disguise? They are local bachelors from the town of Splügen who carry on this age-old fertility tradition.

Copyright Andy Storchenegger

What's surprised you the most about these masks and costumes at Swiss carnivals? 🎉

Dimitri Burkhard

As the founder, editor, and community manager of Newly Swissed, Dimitri owns the strategic vision. He is passionate about storytelling and is a member of Swiss Travel Communicators.

Dimitri loves discovering new trends and covers architecture, design, start-ups and tourism.

Dimitri Burkhard

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