Masopust 2016: Meat, Masks, Music and Merry-Making
Put your mask on, indulge your carnivorous appetite & bring your family
You won’t find purple, green or gold beads, topless ladies or Venetian masks in Prague. Nor are you likely to see much samba dancing. Masopust celebrations in the Czech Republic have their own blend of raucous merry-making with much to offer locals and tourists alike – from masquerade parades with street carnivals in Prague’s downtown to feasts and folk dancing at costumed balls in Czech villages.
Sample traditional Czech sausages, bacon and roasted meat specialties typical of this pre-Lenten holiday. Don’t forget to wash it all down with a specially brewed Masopust beer (try the Bock 16 degree from the Unetice microbrewery for a treat). Be on the lookout for the figures of the Bear, the King or Bacchus, and make sure you and your children make, rent or borrow your own masks to join the celebrations.
The History of Masopust
Masopust literally means “goodbye to meat.” Evidence of Shrovetide celebrations during the three-week period (loosely from Epiphany or The Three Kings Days to Ash Wednesday) date back to the 13th century. Traditionally the celebrations lasted for three days culminating on masopustní úterý or Fat Tuesday. In preparation for Fat Tuesday, villages and towns slaughtered a pig and prepared a communal feast. Women baked their best koblihy (doughnuts) and koláče (pastries) and prepared homemade sausages and other meat delicacies from the slaughtered pig. Children and adults alike prepared homemade costumes.
For the town průvod (procession), villagers dressed up like devils, horned mythological creatures or animals (goats, horses, sheep, rams, pigs and chickens were popular choices). You might have seen a ring master, a juggler or a chimney sweep walking beside a gravedigger or a barber. The colorful procession passed through the local streets, stopping for refreshments at houses along the way. During this time, ghosts of the dead were said to revisit their houses, so special care was taken to bless the costumed visitors and to share good will. After the formal procession, a ples (ball) was held in the town center where the feasting and revelry continued. In some villages, pagan traditions marking the burial of winter and the arrival of spring were also important aspects of the Masopust celebration. Traditionally, the celebration ended at midnight on Fat Tuesday, at which time the forty-day půst or fasting period of Lent began.
For centuries Czechs have used Masopust as a good excuse to bring out their tastiest homemade pork products from the zabijačka (pig slaughter) that accompanied the holiday. In a country where meat is prevalent on restaurant menus all times of the year, it’s hard to believe that there can be a special meat-eating period. But, if so, Masopust is it. Although pig slaughter at home has been restricted in recent years due to EU regulations, it is becoming more popular to find zabijačka dishes, not only in village pubs but also in Prague restaurants.
Popular pork specialties include homemade sausages called jitrnice (gray sausages made from pig entrails and seasoned with onion, garlic and marjoram) or jelito (dark brown blood sausages made with barley) as well as tlačenka (head cheese) ovar (fatty pieces of cooked pig meat, usually from the pig head or knee, served with grated horseradish) and zabíjačkový guláš (goulash). Pork knuckle and calf’s foot jelly are other Masopust favorites. Game meat such as rabbit and wild boar is also found on the seasonal menus. For vegetarians, choices are slimmer at a Masopust feast. However, sauerkraut and dumplings are popular side dishes, and special yeast doughnuts flavored with rum are sweet treats.
Where to Celebrate Masopust
Roztoky – Unetice Masopust, January 22-24
The Masopust season is kicked off by the annual celebration between the two villages of Roztoky and Unetice. The festival, which is celebrating its auspicious 19th year, is the villages’ biggest annual cultural event and is well-known outside of village circles as a colorful, down-to-earth celebration. It’s rich cultural program and adherence to traditional pagan rituals makes it a perfect out-of-Prague day trip for families with children.
Highlights of the festival include the procession from Roztoky to the Holý vrch hilltop, labeled as a “traditional-nontraditional cheerful, boisterous, playful, cryptic and bombastic parade of masks” and the subsequent hilltop entertainment. If you don’t have a mask, arrive at the Roztoky Chateau early enough to rent one on site from the festival organizers in time for the parade. A special bus between the two villages will take revelers back and forth during the afternoon and evening.
Friday, January 22
17:00 – 20:00 – Street parade through Roztoky’s Žalov neighborhood
Saturday, January 23
Středočeské Museum in Roztoky (below train station on grounds of the Roztoky Chateau)
11:00 Mask rental at Roztoky Chateau
13:00 Masopust kicks off with performances by jugglers, musicians and thespians
14.00 Coronation of the Masopust Queen (music & fanfare)
14:30 Parade of masks through Roztoky
Holý vrch (Hilltop between Roztoky & Unetice)
17.00 Meeting of the processions from the villages of Roztoky, Unetice and Suchdol. Hilltop entertainment featuring battalions, circle dances, bear wrestling and an execution.
14.00 Kicking off the Masopust celebrations (with Bock seasonal brew)
18:30 Concert by Vintage Wine (Celtic and Irish rock music)
Unetice Sokolovna (Town Center)
19.00 Masopust Ball featuring Magnum Jazz Big Band
19.30 Juggling & Acrobatic exhibition by Mix Trix
23.00 Midnight dancing and more in the “cowshed” (next to the town’s preschool)
Sunday, January 24
14:00 Fairytale theater “O Smolíčkovi a Budulínkovi” performed by clowns and marionette puppets for children (of all ages)
Cost: Free to all
Tickets: Masopust Ball (180 CZK)
Žižkov Masopust (Praha 3) February 6-9
Head to Prague’s Žižkov neighborhood to experience one of the oldest Masopust celebrations in Prague in its 23rd year running. Organized by MC Prague 3, this multiday festival includes a carnival, a parade with some of the wildest costumes you’ll see in Prague, plus plenty of music, dance, food, drink and fun. Starting on Saturday, February 6 and culminating on Tuesday, February 9 with the annual Žižkov Masopust parade through the neighborhood, the four-day celebration includes concerts, films and a guided tour of historic sites. Highlights include this year’s musical guest Jaroslav Uhlíř, a famous Czech composer and singer, best known by young children for his hit “Není nutno.”
Saturday, February 6
Náměstí Jiřího z Poděbrad
14:00 – 17:00 Traditional Masopust carnival with food and craft stands
16:00 Concert by Jaroslav Uhlíř and his band
Sunday, February 7
12:00 – 17:00 Sample traditional pig slaughter delicacies at the pub U vystřelenýho oka
14:00 Guided walk through Žižkov
17:00 Palác Akropolis presents Milan Drobný with guest Yvonne Přenosilovou
15:00 Kino Aero plays V Hlavě (Inside Out)
18:00 Kino Aero plays Ztraceni v Mnichově
Tuesday, February 9
17:00 – 19:00 Masopust parade starting from Náměstí Jiřího z Poděbrad
16:00 – 17:00 parade line-up
17:00 Start toward Prague 3 town hall
18.30 Finish at park u Viktorky Žižkov with music by Šlapeto and non-traditional puppet show
Cost: Free to all
Although the Žižkov Masopust celebration is by far the largest and most well-known within Prague’s city limits, other municipalities of Prague have their own versions, which can be particularly entertaining if the procession happens to pass your own house or hotel.
See below to find out if your neighborhood is preparing a Masopust celebration this year.
February 6: Letna Masopust (P7), Karlín Masopust (P8), Kbely Masopust, Střížkov Masopust (P9)
February 9 &13: Břevnov Masopust (P6) February 13: Třeboradice Masopust (P9)
To get a sense of an authentic Moravian Masopust from the olden days head to the Wallachian Open Air Museum in Rožnov pod Radhoštěm on Saturday, February 6. Tour the wooden village, taste homemade sweets and pork products and view the historic mask parade. Watch the 19th annual contest for the best Wallachian sausage or the 9th annual contest for the best tlačenka.
Simultaneously with Masopust, the festival Carnevale Praga hosts a series of higher end carnival events in Prague, including concerts, formal balls and exhibitions from January 29 – February 9. For event details and ticket information in English go to www.carnevale.cz.
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