HELVETIA, W.Va. — As the sun set below the ridgelines of the Appalachian Mountains on Saturday evening, revelers donned fantastical papier-mâché masks — a bright red creature with striped horns, a boar with a floral headdress, an autumn leaf — and marched with gusto in an outdoor masquerade ball.
The celebration featured Swiss folk songs and tiny Swiss flags, as well as paper lanterns. The celebration culminated in a parade through the village led by Old Man Winter, who was then thrown on top of a raging bonfire to bring about spring.
Fasnacht has been hosted by Helvetia since more than 50 years. It is a small community of 85 people. The coronavirus pandemic forced its cancellation last year — the first since 1967 — making this year’s celebration all the more sweet.
Doug Davis, a longtime festival organizer and public-school teacher, seemed buoyed by the festival’s return. “Covid killed the community spirit,” he said. “But here we are, recovering.”
Helvetia, like Fasnacht itself, has Swiss roots. The Swiss and German immigrants settled the village during the 19th Century. The buildings have traditional Swiss architecture. Hütte, a traditional Swiss restaurant, serves bratwurst, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and potatoes. Fasnacht weekend bookings for the Beekeeper Inn must be made months in advance. Fasnacht mask museums can also be found at the Helvetia General Store.
In many parts of Switzerland, carnival — or Fasnacht — season is held in February and March. It’s held in Helvetia the weekend before Fat Tuesday. The festival draws enough people to more than triple the population.
While many revelers on Saturday said they were relieved to see the tradition return, some described a sense of urgency in their desire to experience what may be West Virginia’s most unusual community celebration. Appalachia, said Joe Holmes, an attendee from Davis, W.Va., 76 miles away, is “homogenizing like everything else. These little pockets are becoming less unique. It’s an inevitable result of technology and progress.”
This year’s events were moved outdoors as a Covid-19 precaution. People gathered around the banks of Trout Run to warm themselves by lighting campfires and eating Fasnacht donuts, traditional Swiss sweets. Visitors lined up to peek inside a log cabin decorated with artifacts from some of Helvetia’s original settlers.
And on Saturday evening, as the last bits of Old Man Winter were consumed by flames, festivalgoers joined in an a cappella rendition of the beloved John Denver anthem “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”
Source: NY Times