Carnival starts on Dirty Thursday, the Thursday before Rose Monday. The folk festival in the old town begins with the day’s vigil at 5 am. A boat with Brother Fritschi and his Fritschi family on board sails into Lucerne from Lake Lucerne at Schweizerhofquai. Brother Fritschi is the imaginary head of Lucerne’s largest and oldest guild, the Safran Guild (founded around 1400). The “big bang”, a very loud detonation, gives the signal for the Guuggenmusigen and all Fasnächtler to begin.
The Fritschi father and guild master of Safran welcomes Brother Fritschi and leads him to the Fritschi Fountain on Kapellplatz. They are accompanied by guests of honor, the Fritschi family as well as Harsthorn blowers and several Guggenmusik. Afterwards, the thousands of carnival revelers who are already on their feet in the morning meet on Kapellplatz for the “Fötzeliregen”. Afterwards, the traditional orange throwing begins around the Fritschibrunnen. There was a record number of visitors at the Tagwache 2015 with 18,000 participants.
On the afternoon of Dirty Thursday, the first of two large parades take place. On the parade route from the Hofkirche over the Seebrücke to the Neustadt, the guilds and societies of the city of Lucerne, Guuggenmusigen and other groups present themselves with floats on which small stages are set up. Current events of a political and social nature are satirized there. Increasingly, however, they also include fantasy subjects, where the emphasis is on the craftsmanship involved in building the float and the masks.
The second important day is the “Güdis-Mäntig”, which corresponds to the German Rosenmontag. Güdis comes from Güdel and means stomach sack, belly or paunch; this means that on Güdis Monday and Tuesday people fill their bellies again before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. This day is carried by a second guild, the Wey guild. The Wey day watch takes place at 6 am. There is no big bang or “Fötzelirääge” on Monday, but there is another orange throwing out at Kapellplatz. The parade takes place in the afternoon.
Another highlight of the carnival is the “Monstercorso” on the following Güdisdienstag evening, when all Lucerne Guuggenmusigen, which have joined together in the umbrella organization of the “Vereinigte” von Luzern (United Lucerne Guuggenmusigen), perform a huge parade over the Seebrücke and through the Old Town, the center of the street carnival. The order of the various Guuggenmusigen is traditionally structured, as older Musigen are allowed to walk further forward in the procession. First those who are in a jubilee year, then according to their age. There are no or only very small floats. Larger ones would have no place in the narrow streets of Lucerne’s old town. The event is a single, wildly rhythmic roar of wind and percussion instruments in an exuberantly dancing crowd.
Carnival ends with the beginning of Lent, Ash Wednesday, the morning after the monster procession.