Photos by Joseph Lucey

In the tiny Swiss town of Helvetia, hundreds of masked visitors gather each February for Fasnacht, the Mardi Gras of West Virginia! The festival combines elements from Swiss traditions of Fasnacht & the “Burning of the Böögg,” two celebrations historically known to usher out the harsh winter and welcome in a bountiful spring.

Traditionally, Fasnacht festival-goers create papier-mâché masks to scare off a locally-made effigy of Old Man Winter. Helvetia’s Fasnacht encourages attendees to be as creative as possible, inviting a distinct fusion of Swiss folklore and Appalachian critters and cryptids.

The effigy of Old Man Winter is paraded through the town by festival-goers at the end of the night and thrown into a roaring bonfire to symbolize winter’s end and the start of a happy, healthy spring. After the bonfire, attendees enjoy some pre-Lenten fatty foods & dance the winter away to traditional Swiss folk tunes & Appalachian bluegrass.