Fašiangy: Slovak Carnival is a party time
Leftover from observance of Christian seasons, fašiangy is the time between the end of the Christmas season (January 6) and the beginning of Lent. Basically, it’s party time. It’s the time to indulge in rich foods and have fun before the austerity of Lent. This year, we went to a folklore zabava, a family dance in folklore style that was amazing (read on for a picture of me in kroj below).
For children, one day towards the end of the season is designated for dressing up in costumes, usually at school or pre-school. Slovak kids (including my own) don’t know much about Halloween but get excited for to dress up for Karnival.
For adults, fašiangy marks the ball season. Formal dances are planned in smaller towns and cities alike, attended by men in suit and tie and women in uber fancy dresses. Slovaks dance into the not-so-wee hours of the morning, to live or DJed music. There are certain songs that are played every time, that everybody loves and sings along to. Most of them are hits from the 70’s and 80’s. There are usually at least two meals, plus snacks (read here for how much food a Slovak party must have).
Adults also sometimes dress up and parade around the village singing in front of people’s homes and offering alcohol.
Rich foods are traditionally made at this time, of which zabíjačka products fit the bill. Deep fried sweets are popular, like šišky, similar to doughnuts. The dough is deep friend and instead of a hole there is an indent that is filled with jam. Fánky are another treat, rolled flat squares of dough that puff up when deep fried.
Apparently, once upon a time fašiangy was wedding season, which in an agricultural culture makes sense. Spring to fall are crazy busy on a farm. Traditionally winter would have seen more indoor activities, making things with the fruit of the summer’s labour, like spinning and knitting or embroidery. These handicrafts would mostly be done by the end of winter/beginning of spring but it would still be too early to start work outside, so it would be the perfect time to host a wedding. And if it’s rich food party season anyway, a family could kill two birds with one stone financially.
This year, our family went to a “starosvetská fašangová zábava,” an old fashioned Slovak carnival dance. A blast was had by all. It took place in the “Kultúrny Dom,” commonly referred to as KD and literally meaning cultural house, that is the community hall.
Live music was provided by a cimbala, a group so named because of the presence of a “cimbal,” the hammered dulcimer. These groups play folk music, usually quite lively. They played from 4 pm until 2am; a friend told me she was surprised it ended so soon. Bands are always well provided for at dances, taking breaks to sit at their own table overflowing with food and drink (as in the photo below). Must take care of the musicians!
In the breaks between music, small folk groups sang/played/danced. As well, as often happens at big celebrations, groups of people gather to sing, especially the men. Their strong voices drown out any instruments that may be playing along. There is a large repertoire of folk songs that everybody knows, so most people can join in.
Each family who came brought a plate of snacks, savoury or sweet, and there was more to choose from than you could shake a stick at. Pagač, something like a scone/biscuit, sometimes with cheese. Moravské kolače, sweet yeast dough baked in a circle with jam and curds, walnut paste, or poppy seed paste in the indented middle. Strudels, bars, and other snacks were in abundance.
Besides that, gulas was served, made from wild boar. After a complimentary litre of wine, more wine, mead, or hard alcohol was available to buy. As the evening wore on, a certain relaxation was evident among some of the dancers. One of the folk groups brought in a surprise roasted pig for a second meal. “Come, let’s dance some more so I’m hungry to eat the pork,” said my husband.
Partly what I loved about the dance was that they started early enough to include the children. It was like a old time country dance. Kids running around, dancing with or watching the adults and copying, learning how to dance. Trying moves out on their own. Good music, good food, good people, good times -I’m hope that it becomes an annual event to celebrate fašiangy.
Photo by Jozef Oravec. My neighbour sent me some photos to share – here you can see the singing on the right, the children dancing in the middle, the bar on the left, and adults taking a break to eat and rest. Click on the photo to see a bigger version.
More information about fašiangy on The Slovak Spectator.
Photo by Jozef Oravec
Kids figuring out Slovak folk dance moves.
Names of villages in the area are written on the cloths.
People from different villages coming together to sing.
Photo by Jozef Oravec
A lovely modern take on a Slovak folk dress by the talented Manufolktúra, who also sews folk inspired children’s clothes. Photo by Jozef Oravec.
Me with a tuckered out kid who fell fast asleep. Running around, dancing, and eating too many sweets is hard work when you are three. Photo by Jozef Oravec.
Photo by Jozef Oravec.
And here is me in a borrowed kroj (thanks Katka!). I discovered why in Slovak dances the women twist their hips back a forth – to get some air flowing under the three layers of skirts. And as fluffy as the outfit is, it is tied super tight around the waist. “Suck in,” said my friend as she wrenched it tight when showing me how to put it on.
And here is a video of various highlights, taken by a Matej Chrvala.
Mar 05, 2016 @ 06:02:17
I have enjoyed your blog for almost a year (over a year??) now. I LOVE each post – your insight into a country I may never be able to make it to, the recipes (I bought Hungarian paprika because of you!), the lovely traditions, and the gorgeous countryside. Thank you so much for sharing your life!
Katie from Tennessee, USA
Mar 05, 2016 @ 12:15:47
Katie, thank you so much for your enthusiasm. It brings a smile to my face 🙂 I’m so glad you enjoy it – I better get some more recipes up that use paprika!
Mar 05, 2016 @ 13:52:48
Naomi, this traditional folk dress ” kroj ” looks good on you. Always wanted to try it. Thanks for this article and awesome pictures.
Greetings from Florida.
Mar 05, 2016 @ 17:03:05
Thank you! It would be awfully warm to wear in Florida 🙂 Hope you are doing well.
Mar 05, 2016 @ 16:44:18
Oh my goodness, you guys know how to have a good party over there! This is fabulous! Love all the costumes; and thank you for letting us see you in traditional dress too! That was wonderful! I loved watching the video with my youngest. What a taste we’ve had of traditions from another country. Wow, your musicians sure worked hard with lively music for the night. It was fascinating watching the young people sing and play their fiddles (oh yes, and the little ones dancing together…so sweet!) Thank you for sharing this with us!
Mar 05, 2016 @ 17:06:25
I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I love to think that I’m contributing to an education in cultural geography 🙂 I’m learning to play the violin with my daughters and it gives me extra appreciation for amazing fiddle players!
Mar 05, 2016 @ 22:07:41
What a charming party. Great food and music, and everyone having so much fun. I hope I can go to fasiangy some day. Thanks so much for sharing this, Naomi! Love your blog posts.
Mar 06, 2016 @ 20:44:55
Thank you! I hope you get to go some day too 🙂
Mar 06, 2016 @ 01:25:05
Another very entertaining and educational post. I love the costumes. How wonderful to be in a society that has so much history and culture.
Mar 06, 2016 @ 20:46:14
Thank you! So much work went into making the costumes at one time, handmade lace and embroidery, etc.
Mar 06, 2016 @ 08:16:22
Such a lovely tradition, Naomi! Love your photos, and especially of the children dancing. Looks like everyone had a great time – wonderful to celebrate with food, music, dancing and community. I was wondering about the dresses – does the design depend on the region, or is it a personal choice? Such beautiful colours and designs.
Mar 06, 2016 @ 20:50:01
Aw, thank you. The design is definitely set by region, even by town. If you look carefully at the photos, you’ll see that, for example, one group is singing (with the girl playing the accordion sitting on a chair) has a lot of gold and gold beadwork on the women’s dresses and the men have large feathers in their hats. That town is not far away from this one, which had kroj more like the others without the gold. Towns even a few couple kms apart can have different designs/dominant colours.
Mar 17, 2016 @ 01:35:34
Beautiful post!! Lovely customs, all the lace and everything about it is wonderful. The children’s clothing are so beautiful with lots of details. Love all those traditional clothing. When we worked in Africa we got to know Frank who was a from Czechoslovakia and his wife was from Brazil. He loved to cook and we enjoyed his food very much. Thank you so much for sharing.
Mar 28, 2016 @ 03:20:12
So glad you enjoyed! It’s amazing, it’s it, when you think of all the work and patience that went into making lovely clothing.
Mar 17, 2016 @ 19:03:09
Well, well,well, that Slovak national kroj really suits you. All that merriment and a full belly of pork and sweets, no wonder poor kid was ready to flop. Your mention of “fanky” brings me back to my late grandma, as nobody from our family can take her making fanky skills away.My aunt attempted sisky and I have to admit, they were yummy. Great summary, so can finally forwad to a family member who is asking about mainly pig killing and use of all the meat parts. Thanks.
Mar 28, 2016 @ 03:26:04
Why thank you 🙂 I need to find somebody to teach me to make fanky and sisky! I have more planned for the meat parts, just haven’t gotten it up yet.