Community, art, and culture are three words that come to mind when Clara Lehman thinks about Fasnacht, Helvetia’s annual end-of-winter celebration.
With unique cultural activities for all ages, there’s a reason Fasnacht continues to be a cherished event each year in Randolph County.
Clara, President of the Helvetia Restoration and Development Organization, was raised with this unique Swiss tradition and now continues to assist in the coordination of the event alongside a dedicated volunteer base.
We sat down with Clara to get an insider’s look into the upcoming event—here’s what we discussed:
Elkins-Randolph County Tourism: Can you give us some background on Fasnacht? When and where does Fasnacht take place?
Clara: Fasnacht takes place on February 18th from 3pm-10pm in Helvetia.
Fasnacht has always been a strong family tradition and we see many families attend year after year.
In a nutshell, visitors that come will take part in an authentic Swiss experience that they will remember forever. You will savor fatty foods, listen, dance, or sway along to Swiss and Appalachian tunes, and wear your handmade mask to scare away Old Man Winter!
Elkins-Randolph County Tourism: What can people expect throughout the day?
Clara: Fasnacht kicks off simply and comfortably. You can begin by exploring the historic square and discover all there is to see at Swiss Roots store, including taking a peek at past masks on display at their mask museum, select your very own Helvetia sweatshirt or apparel to take home with you, and sample authentic locally made Swiss cheeses and other delicious items.
Next, be sure to check out the Hutte Restaurant for a memorable Swiss meal. They will be serving the sampler plate, which lets you explore all the great tastes they have to offer. Keep in mind that there are no reservations and that the restaurant operates on a first come first serve basis— consider making your dining plans earlier in the day as it does tend to get very busy around dinner time. Be sure to come hungry!
Plan to visit the Helvetia Library for the book sale and stop by the archive room to meet with historians and learn about family ties and ancestry. View our Swiss flag, which early settlers brought from Switzerland circa 1869— preserved for the next generation and hopefully much longer.
Old Man Winter will be on full display in the Town Square gazebo so grab your photos with him before the end of the night. Little toys will be available for children, gifts from Old Man Winter.
Always a favorite, the amazing Fire Dancing Performance will take place again this year. It is free to watch but donations will be accepted, and trust us, it is a breathtaking performance you don’t want to miss.
From 3-6pm enjoy an open jam session at the Star Band Hall so bring your instrument! And if you’re hungry, don’t worry, there will be additional food for sale inside the Star Band Hall, including bratwurst, sauerkraut, coffee and cocoa. You can buy your event tickets at the Star Band Hall, which is the center for the celebration, or purchase them later in the evening at the dance door. The dance will feature fiddle player Tessa Dillion and Co. You should expect waltzes, polkas, Schottisches, and square dances. Food will also be for sale in the community hall from 7-10pm. We don’t want you to go home hungry.
Elkins-Randolph County Tourism: Are there any new activities planned for this year?
Clara: This year is a hybrid event, merging indoor and outdoor events.
The event does charge an admission. $15 per adult | $5 per age 12-17 | Free for 11-under) includes entry into the open jam session party at the Star Band Hall, a toy prize for the children, masquerade, parade, bonfire for the burning of Old Man Winter, and dance at the Community Hall.
We are also encouraging medical masks for those immunocompromised, but this is not required!
This year we will parade Old Man Winter from the Historic Square gazebo to the bonfire at the Community Hall. Afterward, we’ll have a big dance.
Elkins-Randolph County Tourism: Where can people stay the night?
Clara: There are many different places that you could stay at if you traveled a far distance to come and enjoy Fasnacht.
• Beekeeper’s Inn
• Swiss Roots Inn
Close to Helvetia:
• Kumbrabow State Forest
• Holly River State Park
• Airbnb/VRBO’s nearby
Towns close to Helvetia to explore lodging:
• Mill Creek
• French Creek
Elkins-Randolph County Tourism: What kind of atmosphere do you want to create?
Clara: The atmosphere that we intend to create is intimate and sweet and lots of fun. We encourage all ages to participate by wearing their handmade masks and costumes, or simply come to people watch!
There’s plenty of fun to be had for children who especially love wearing their handmade masks and are proud to share it with others! Some masks take as long as 3-4 weeks to craft.
Our hope is to give those in attendance a sense of our history and culture, learn how people got to Helvetia, taste new and authentic Swiss dishes, and reflect on this spiritual and religious event.
Most importantly we want you to feel welcome and see yourself in the festival.
Elkins-Randolph County Tourism: What is your favorite part about Fasnacht?
Clara: I feel like the masking is the best part for me. It’s not like Halloween masks that you buy at the store—these are truly an artform. Each mask maker is expressing something new every year as they change as a person. It’s beautiful to see everyone expressing their year, new interest or healing that may have occurred throughout the year into their mask.
Elkins-Randolph County Tourism: What is one thing you would like everyone to know about Fasnacht?
Clara: We are located in rural West Virginia. So if you’re from here you know that some areas don’t abide to the new age. So make sure you are going to the right place BEFORE embarking on your adventure to Helvetia.
Please note that we do not have cell service in Helvetica, so load your map before leaving the Elkins/Buckhannon area because that may be the last time you have the chance to find out where you are going.
Another important tip please do not assume that every store will accept credit/debit cards. There is not an ATM in Helvetia so please bring cash.
I also want to stress that you can participate without making a mask! That is one of the big things that we are trying to emphasize. Please come and experience the event and don’t feel pressured into making a mask.
Lastly, we do ask for you to please respect the community and be kind to the town and neighbors.
Elkins-Randolph County Tourism: Is there anything else you’d like us to know about Fasnacht?
Clara: We would like to give a shout out to the volunteers and the community that work very hard to put this event on every year. Our volunteers don’t get paid to do this and spend months setting up and getting ready for this event, which is truly a testament to Helvetia and how much people love it.
If you’re making plans to trek over to Helvetia on February 18th, make sure to check out Fasnacht’s tentative schedule of events below:
Draft schedule (times & details subject to change):
3:00-6:00PM (ext. Historic Square & Star Band Hall)
o Open jam session – Star Band Hall
o Food for sale
o Take pictures with Old Man Winter (Gazebo)
o Small toy prizes for the kids (Gazebo)
o Book Sale (Library)
o Archives and Museum open
o Fire dancing performance (Historic Square – donations accepted)
3:30-4:30 – History Tour of the community (donations accepted)
6:00-6:30 – Masquerade – mask judging
o Parade with Old Man Winter from Historic Square to the bonfire near the Helvetia Community Hall
o Burning of Old Man Winter
7:00-10:00 – Dance