Morbid Anatomy reader Jordan Marzuki just sent in a fascinating guest post about Basel's Fasnacht Carnival and its relationship to death and pre-Christian rituals; he has also made a rather wonderful video of the parade which you can view above or by clicking here.
"Fasnacht" carnival takes its name from the start of the fasting season of lent. But this, the most important event in the life of Basel, Switzerland, is also fixed by Christian holy days. Carnival is always held six weeks before Easter, a week later than the Fas(t)nacht widely celebrated throughout neighboring German-speaking Catholic areas. The city of Basel is also associated with the "Totentanz" or dance of the death. That reminded people that whether rich or poor, and no matter one's station in life, everyone has to die.
Locals describe the event as the the three most beautiful days of the year. Up to 12,000 carnival participants march around the city in groups according to in their themed costumes and masks. Most of themes are associated with the topic of death – which is revering to the Basler Totentanz.
The Basler Fasnacht is now a part of the cultural identity of the city of Basel, and is often depicted as ancient tradition. Although the officially organized Carnival has only existed since 1920, it draws on traditions tracing back to pre-Christian times, and is connected with the spirits of the night, which are personified by masks. The masks represent a kind of struggle with the negative powers. With the end of winter, these spirits are driven away, the "expulsion of the winter," and the victory of spring.