Why should you go? If you are a West Virginian, it’s part of your heritage – one of the cultures that make up the patchwork of who West Virginia people are. Helvetia represents what West Virginia was in the beginning – diverse and accepting – and what it strives to be today. The people are warm and welcoming. The tradition of Fasnacht is the gathering of friends. This is true in Helvetia every day of the year and on full display during this festival.
We are going to Helvetia a second time for Fasnacht. What is Fasnacht? It has it’s roots in the Swiss Winterfest and happens the Saturday before Ash Wednesday. It may have been an attempt to drive away demons that were harmful to plants and humans. Tradition says that a demon will flee if he sees his own face reflected in a mask. It also marks the end of winter, coming of spring and a time to feast before Lent.
The festivities begin at 3 pm at the Star Band Hall with an open mic, food and beverages. At 7:30, kid’s mask judging takes place at the nearby Community Hall. The Lampion candlelight parade is at 8 pm – the march starts at the Star Band Hall to the Community Hall where the masquerade ball begins. During the ball, the adult masks are judged with prizes awarded. At 11:30 pm, the giant effigy of “Old Man Winter” is cut down from the hall ceiling, taken to a roaring bonfire outside and all gather round. Goodbye winter
For Fasnacht, The Hutte serves the “Sampler Plate”, a traditional bratwurst, green beans, sauerkraut, applesauce, parsley potatoes and an onion quiche known as Bolleflade. For dessert, try the homemade peach cobbler. If you don’t want a full dinner, you can get a bratwurst, soup or chili at the Star Hall, along with chips and candy. Although not encouraged, some bring their own “beverage of choice”.
Allow time to visit the Settler’s Cabin – now a museum, to learn about the history of the area and view artifacts from the early settlement.
There are a few options for lodging in the area. We booked a room at the Beekeeper Inn, overlooking the headwaters of the Buckhannon River. Cozy and warm, we are just steps from the only restaurant, The Hutte. If the inn is booked, opt for the Kulture Haus which houses the post office, general store, mask museum and Helvietia Alpen Lodge which has five rooms, one with a private bath – four with a shared bath. There may be accommodations at Holly River, Kumbrabow, or lodgings in Buckhannon. If you want to stay in Helvetia, book in advance and get on the waiting list – rooms may open before Fasnacht.
What should you pack for this weekend adventure? Be prepared for wet and/or snowy weather. Take sturdy shoes/boots and warm gear. The venues/accommodations are rustic and very casual.
Helvetia is in a high mountain valley in West Virginia’s Randolph County, situated between the dense forest of Holly River State Park and West Virginia’s highest state forest, Kumbrabow State Forest both with great hiking and fishing. For lodging and activity information, check wvstateparks.com for details. While you are in the area, visit Helvetia for the Spring Ramp Dinner, the Helvetia Community Fair and check online for other activities and festivals at helvetiawv.com.