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Festivals of Western Europe

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Author Topic: Festivals of Western Europe  (Read 3218 times)
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« Reply #60 on: April 29, 2009, 03:22:42 pm »

In many parts of the country, particularly in western and southern Germany, salt and chalk are consecrated in church on this day. The salt is given the animals to lick, while the Three Kings' traditional initials, C.M.B., for Caspar (also, Gaspar, Kaspar), Melchior, Balthasar (or Balthazar) are chalked above house and stable doors. This is thought to keep evil from entering and harming man or beast. In the Bavarian Forest peasants write above the lintel the legend, "Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, protect us this day from all danger of fire and flood."

    Epiphany parties are frequent, with the traditional cake as a special feature of the celebration. A bean, or sometimes a coin, is hidden in the cake. Whoever finds the symbol in his portion becomes king of the feast.

    In Upper Bavaria peasants wearing horrible-looking wooden masks go about cracking long whips and symbolically driving out Frau Perchta (also known as Berchta, or Bertha), nature goddess of ancient Germanic mythology and custodian of the dead. According to folk belief the mysterious witch wanders about and harms mortals on the Twelve Days between Christmas and Epiphany. On Perchiennacht, or Epiphany, Perchta and her cohorts, symbolizing powers of both good and evil, are thought to fructify the fields and to frighten naughty children.

    The Perchta masks which are handed down from one generation to another, are terrifying in their fantastic ugliness. Some have protruding fangs for teeth, bulging eyes, sinister wrinkles and hairy faces. Those who wear the masks dress in slovenly kerchiefs and dirty aprons, and march through the streets with brooms, chains, and hatchets, fully looking the part of the relentless furies they are intended to represent.

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