Celebrate Fasnacht “The Mardi Gras of Randolph County”

Every year hundreds of people converge on the tiny town of Helvetia for one of the most unique festivals in West Virginia. Fasnacht takes place annually on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday. Only at Fasnacht can you find homemade masks, a candlelight parade, a square dance, Swiss food, and the burning of Old Man Winter, all in one celebration. Join us for one of the best parties in the state!

Fasnacht is a pre-Lenten celebration (like Mardi Gras or Carnival) that was brought to Randolph County by the Swiss immigrants who settled Helvetia beginning in the 1860s. Much of the traditional food, music, and dance brought by these immigrants has survived in this rural community and acquired a unique West Virginia twist. Up until World War II, German was the first language of many Helvetia residents. While Fasnacht is also celebrated with masks and parades elsewhere, Helvetia’s version of Fasnacht is unique with its burning of Old Man Winter.

The Lampion Parade

The festivities begin at the Star Band Hall with open-mic music, jam sessions, and food for sale. Around 8:00pm people don their masks for the Lampion Parade. Each person carries a candle-lit paper lamp in a procession from the Star Band Hall down the street to the Community Hall. There you will find the effigy of Old Man Winter strung from the ceiling. Next the best masks are judged and the Masquerade square dance begins. The homemade masks you can find at Fasnacht come in all shapes and sizes and are often elaborate, frightening, or comical. You can see examples of these masks on display year-round at the Kultur Haus.

Although they call it a square dance, dancing in Helvetia represents the village’s unique Swiss-Appalachian heritage and features traditional circle dances plus waltzes, polkas, and a schottische. Finally, around midnight the hand-made effigy of Old Man Winter is cut down and tossed outside on a bonfire to celebrate the end of winter.

The burning of Old Man Winter

Eleanor Mailloux said that “food is the soul of this place”. With the abundance of food at Helvetia’s community events it’s easy to see why. During Fasnacht attendees can taste traditional Swiss pastries like rosettes and hosablatz, or try a sampler plate at the Hutte Restaurant. Food is also for sale at the Star Band Hall. Be sure to bring CASH if you plan to purchase anything.

Making rosettes (photo: Helvetia History Project)
Making hosablatz (photo: Helvetia History Project)

For more information visit helvetiawv.com or contact the Helvetia Restoration and Development Organization.

A typical schedule is:

  • 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. Helvetia Mask Museum and General Store are open in Kultur Haus Helvetia.
    3:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. Open Mic, food, and beverages. Star Band (Red) Hall.
  • 11:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. Sampler Plate- Hutte Restaurant.
  • 7:30 p.m. – Kid’s Mask Judging at Community Hall. Toys, snacks, and dancing.
  • 8:00 p.m. – 8:15 p.m. Lampion (candlelight) parade – Star Band Hall to Community Hall.
  • 8:15 p.m. – 11:00 p.m. Mask Judging and Masquerade Ball. Community Hall. $10 per person.
  • 11:00 a.m. – 11:30 p.m. Burning Old man Winter – outside Community Hall.

Limited lodging is available at the Beekeeper Inn and the Alpen Lodge.

Revelers enjoy a waltz

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