Masked dancers, outlandish costumes, colourful parades, bottomless feasts – it can only mean one thing: Masopust is here. Czech Republic’s version of Mardi Gras, Masopust (also known as Carnevale Praha) is the biggest, and loudest, folk celebration of the year. Held every year in the lead up to Lent, the festival bids farewell to winter and welcomes spring in lively fashion. The population of Prague comes together to celebrate and there are plenty of ways for visitors to get involved, too. From festive feasting and carnival masks to street parades and balls, here are the top things to do at this year’s carnival, taking place 18th –28th February 2017.
A highlight of the Masopust carnival is the annual procession through the streets of Prague on Fat Thursday. Held to ensure happiness in the forthcoming year, the parade is cheerful, playful and bombastic. Dancers in costume leap and jump as high as they can in honour of the ancient farming superstition that the higher you jump, the taller the wheat will grow before harvest. In times gone by, participants went from house-to-house exchanging good luck favours for treats such as pork delicacies and doughnuts. Nowadays, it’s more of a traditional parade through the city, but there are always plenty of snacks to be enjoyed along the way.
When it comes to Masopust, the general rule is the more colourful your getup, the better. This rings true particularly with costumes and masks. For the carnival, many people choose to dress as mythical creatures or animals such as bears and horses, while others opt to embody human characters such as chimney sweeps, ringmasters and jesters. Masks and costumes aren’t just limited to the parade, however. There’s also an extensive programme of events such as street parties, village fairs and masked balls where you can show off your eye-catching outfit.
One of the biggest traditions of Masopust is the feast. The festival is a time when families get together and share a big meal, usually roast pork with sauerkraut. Other carnival favourites, which can be sampled at restaurants and fairs across the capital, include homemade sausages known as jitrnice, pork knuckle and zabíjačkový guláš (goulash). Many Catholics give up meat for the month of Lent, so Masopust (which translates from old Czech to mean ‘meat fast’) is seen as an opportunity to indulge as much as possible before the fast begins.
As well as street parades in areas such as Hlubočepy, Dubeč and Břevnov, visitors can enjoy concerts and parties across the city. From Baroque opera performances to Czech folk dancing and dazzling masked balls, there’s lots to get involved with. Highlights include carnival concerts at Clam-Gallas Palace, a beautiful baroque building with an exceptional theatre where Mozart and Beethoven once performed. There’s also a large-scale celebration on Jiřího z Poděbrad, a beautiful square in Žižkov, where a stage is set up for live music and entertainment.
Food and festivities combine at the Vinohrady Masopust Market. Taking place on Tyl Square throughout the Masopust period, the market hosts dozens of stalls filled with carnival souvenirs and treats, ranging from grilled sausages and gingerbread to art and gifts. There’s also a lively programme of folk performances that are well worth watching for a taste of Czech folk culture.