It always seemed so wrong to me, seeing kids in American movies don scary costumes in the middle of autumn and go trick or treating. Ringing at doors to get donuts is a winter practice and one could go as whatever one wanted to be. A ballerina, a princess, a typist or a rocket scientist. Scary was not mandatory. Dancing, fireworks and a burning effigy were. Still are.
I called it maškare and poklade as a kid, both Croatian words for Carnival. There are many names for what remains of the ancient Roman Bacchanalia in the predominantly Catholic Croatia: poklade, fašnik, krnjeval, krnoval, pokladi, pust, fašnjek, maškare. Which one you get to use, and what customs you get to follow, depends on which part of Croatia your family calls home.
I have no idea what my inherited family traditions would be. If there were any at all, my family has long since stopped practicing them. They are from southern Croatia, but having grown up in Zagreb, my childhood consisted of doing the maškare thing, halfheartedly as I was shy and wistfully watching the Children’s Carnival in Rijeka, home of the possibly biggest and certainly best known Croatian Carnival.
I had always wanted to be a part of it. As an adult, a few years back I fulfilled that dream to go see it live. It was awesome! Zvoncari, the traditional bellmen dressed in sheep skin with huge bells hanging from their wastes who take part in a folk custom maintained in the region around Rijeka by doing a dance and ringing the bells in order to scare away evil spirits of winter and stir up new spring-time cycle – let me tell you it is every bit as scary live as you can imagine. And then some. The custom has been added to the UNESCO‘s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009.
Before I discovered the world of SF fandom and SFera’s weekly Tuesday meetings, I only knew for certain what I was doing on one Tuesday a year – the Fat one. In high-school, I exchanged ringing my neighbors door bells for the local tradition of getting into costume & character and visiting Samobor, the small town near Zagreb famous for its custard slice cakes and for its Fašnik.
Celebrating the Carnival in northern Croatia usually means having a multiday festival of some sorts with a very rich and varied program, and lots of partying and drinking in the evening. It all culminates on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday in dancing, fireworks and the ritual burning of the Prince of the Carnival.
Samoborski fašnik has a tradition of its own, it’s been going on for 189 years. It was the first big gathering I ever drove to all by myself. It was the first place where I seriously scratched my car and where I froze a lot, standing in the cold, waiting for them the burn the Prince. I even got the SFera meetings transferred to Samobor on at least two occasions in my early years in fandom.
Today, Samobor is the place where I still go for Carnival every year but on Saturdays, when my kid is not too tired from kindergarten and to participate in the children’s masked orienteering race Srakotrk. People really get into it and the walk and the cold are so worth it, if nothing for the awesome masks one gets to see. This year I loved this one:
Tonight’s Fat Tuesday I spent at SFera, with my friends, planning a convention, the annual program, some workshops and a documentary film. I was too busy attempting to make donuts to make a mask, but acting like a responsible adult always feels like I’m wearing a mask anyway. 🙂 Although my donut making project failed royally, this morning I managed to improvise a mask of Sven Nordqvist‘s Findus the Cat for my kid in 40 minutes, making him happy and my entire day great!