Mardi Gras celebrations have been taking place around the country ahead of Ash Wednesday. The Czech Republic may be one of the most secular countries in Europe but Czechs love to observe traditions and while few people are likely to fast during the 40 day Lent period they celebrate Mardi Gras (or Masopust as it is called in Czech) with a vengeance.
The Mardi Gras celebrations are a mixture of religious and pagan traditions, but above all they are a popular social event. People come together for pork feasts that are supposed to bid a symbolic farewell to meat for 40 days, drink beer and brandy, sing, dance and make merry. Mardi Gras carnival processions take place in towns and rural areas where they go from house to house and observe certain rituals and traditions to ensure a good harvest, health and happiness. In the big towns people throw off their inhibitions, dress up in outrageous costumes and stop traffic as they weave their way through busy streets, posing for tourists, on their way to a big Masopust party.
In Prague one of the most popular and colourful carnivals takes place in the Lesser Town setting off from Czernin Palace, near Prague’s famous Loreta, and making its way down the narrow, cobbled streets of the Lesser Town, past the main gate of Prague Castle and the statue of Czechoslovakia’s first president, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, to the foot of Charles Bridge where on Kampa Island a big feast awaits the revellers. The streets of the Lesser Town are dotted with pubs and so the carnival procession moves very slowly, making numerous stops for refreshments, singing, dancing and getting increasingly merry as they make their way to their party destination at Kampa. Join me now for a taste of the Mardi Gras celebrations in Prague's Lesser Town.