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. 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 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 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. The best masks are judged and the Masquerade square dance begins ($10 admission, cash only). 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.
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 available at the Star Band Hall. Be sure to bring CASH if you plan to purchase anything.
A typical schedule is:
- 10:00am -7:00pm Helvetia Mask Museum and
General Store are open in Kultur Haus Helvetia.
- 3:00pm -8:00pm Open Mic, food, and beverages available at Star Band (Red) Hall
- 11:00am -8:00pm Sample Plate available at The Hutte Restaurant
- 7:30pm- Kid’s Mask Judging at Community Hall. Toys, snacks, and dancing.
- 8:00pm -8:15pm Lampion (candlelight) Parade from Star Band Hall to Community Hall
- 8:15pm -11:00pm Mask Judging and Masquerade Ball at Community Hall, $10 per person
- 11:00am -11:30pm Burning Old Man Winter, outside Community Hall