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Annual Fasnacht celebration canceled

HELVETIA — A tradition that has been celebrated annually in the town of Helvetia for the past 150 years has suffered the same fate that many other festivals and gatherings across the country have during the past 12 months.

Fasnacht, which has been referred to as the Mardi Gras of Randolph County, has been canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The unique festival is the staple of the small community and is celebrated annually on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday. The event was scheduled for Feb. 13.

Fasnacht is a pre-Lenten celebration that was brought to Randolph County by the Swiss immigrants who settled in Helvetia beginning in the 1860s. The event celebrates the end of winter and features the burning of Old Man Winter in effigy.

For years the event was celebrated privately in residents’ homes until 1968, when Eleanor Maillouix and some of her friends decided to make it a public event. The festival has become a popular event in which residents from all over West Virginia come to visit Helvetia.

The celebration always begins with musicians gathering at the Star Band Hall where people come to eat, drink and dance. Later in the evening everyone puts on homemade masks and marches to the community hall, where a model of Old Man Winter hangs. After hours of dancing and circling Old Man Winter in an attempt to frighten winter away, the model is cut down at midnight and taken outside and burned.

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