Masopust: A Winter Carnival

When other parts of the world celebrate Mardi Gras and Carnival, Czechs enjoy their own version of the holiday in Central European fashion ā€” by drinking alcohol outside in the freezing cold. Known as Masopust, literally “giving up meat,” the festival was historically a final blow-out before the beginning of Lent, although few people in this largely atheist country keep a Christian fast. In the Czech countryside, Masopust has deep pagan roots; the drinking, costumes, and customary pig slaughter are all meant to celebrate the approaching end of winter.

In the village of Hamry u Hlinska, about 100 miles east of Prague, it’s fallen to the local fire department to be the stewards of the old Masopust traditions. Starting early in the morning, the firemen go from door to door dressed as wild characters, including horses, “Turks,” and chimney sweeps who smear black paint on their neighbors, ostensibly for luck. In return, residents bring out plates of sweets, sausages, and shots of hard liquor. By afternoon, most of the village is cold, dirty, drunk, and well-fed.

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