Czech Lent Tradition
Written by Karolina Stepanova
Even though it is as old as 800 years, this tradition has stayed with the Czech people in some form to this day. Masopust (Lent Tradition) is largely held on only one day – Maskarni utery (Costume Tuesday). This is quite similar to Halloween, and is most popular in small towns and villages. But there is so much more to Masopust than just one day! So, what is it really about? Let‘s find out!
Ethymology of the word Masopust
Carnival (Masopust) comes from either the Italian „carnem levare,“ or French „caramantram,“ meaning „meat away,“ which can be roughly translated to „maso pust,“ because we are not supposed to eat any meat during „Popelecni streda“ (Ash Wednesday).
What is Masopust?
Carnival, or as we call it, „Masopust,“ is a Czech tradition which takes place between the 6th of January (Tri kralove) and ends with „Popelecni streda“ (Ash Wednesday), 46 days before Velikonoce, although the most common is to celebrate only the last 1 to 3 days before the end of Masopust.
In these few weeks, participants should stop eating or doing something they really love, like coffee or bacon, in their everyday life. Some people even stop smoking for that period of time, or start taking cold showers. This is considered a way of preparing for „Vzkriseni“ (the Resurrection of Jesus). Most people in the Czech Republic, however, do not know about this part. Then the fun days come, starting with Tucny ctvrtek (Fat Thursday) and ending on Popelecni streda (Ash Wednesday).
Tucny ctvrtek (Fat Thursday)
This is the one day of the year everyone should eat as much as they can, anything from fat meals to sweet meals, so they are strong and powerful for the whole following year.
Tanecni nedele (Dance Sunday)
Most of the fun happens on this Sunday, where people go dancing and drinking and having a good time. All of those celebrations should end before midnight, so that it really is just Tanecni nedele. In some cities, it was, in the past, common to have separate dances organized for the rich and for the poor.
Maskarni utery (Costume Tuesday)
On this day, people used to dress up in various costumes, usually animals, and gather all in one place and start drinking. Then, everyone wearing a costume would march across the city along to music, and kids perform plays that they learned especially for the occasion.
Popelecni streda (Ash Wednesday)
With the start of Popelecni streda, all of the fun ends. On this day, the fasting starts and continues until Easter. In the morning, and before noon, you could still drink alcohol and maybe eat some meat, but with lunch, lens soup takes its place and the fasting begins.
How is it celebrated today?
These days, it is not common for Czech people, and, as was mentioned before, especially for young people, to follow a tradition like this, because almost no one knows about the whole tradition. And even if somebody does, virtually no one wants to give up something they really love for a few weeks, as Czech Republic is largely an atheist country. What some of us do celebrate, though, is the Maskarni utery, where, mostly people living in villages, dress up in costumes like Americans do on Halloween. Once, on Masopust, some people dressed up as the grim reaper, gathered on the square, and marched through the village, knocking on every door. The people answering their doors gave everyone a shot of alcohol, or sometimes money. The procession also stopped cars that were passing through the village and made them give them some money.