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From Conception to Ritualisation--A Case Study of the Cologne Carnival

From Conception to Ritualisation--A Case Study of the Cologne Carnival

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Published by: Pan Pan Gong on May 28, 2010
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Pan Pan Gong 2010 University of Melbourne1
From conception to ritualisation: A case study of the Cologne carnival
The Cologne carnival is a festival which is regarded by the locals as deeply entrenched intheir heritage and culture, despite having only around 200 years of history. Every year, boththe locals and visitors from afar dress up in all kinds of costumes to attend the many smallcarnival parties held in Cologne during the festive season spanning from 11
th
November toAsh Wednesday. The highlight of the festival is the Rose Monday Parade which featuresover 10,000 people throwing sweets and flowers from the floats to the crowds as theycomplete the 7 kilometre route (Festkomitee Koelner karneval von 1823).The festival, assuming the identity of a traditional Catholic carnival which dates back to the14
th
century (BCG Consulting Group, 2009), secures a high level of local participation and astrong sense of local ownership. During the carnival period, Cologne transforms into a
pilgrimage centre for the carnival’s ritual,
attracting many revellers from other parts of Germany and the rest of the world.In this essay, I shall argue that the affiliation to tradition has legitimised and authenticatedthe invention of the modern Cologne carnival in the local context, securing localengagement and in turn enabling its ritualised existence to generate a high level of foreigninterest. First, I shall discuss the importance of invented tradition in legitimising andauthenticating the existence of the Cologne carnival in the local community by drawingideas from Hobsbawm and Abbott. With reference to Cohen and Moore, I will then show
how this ‘authenticity’, that which is regarded as ‘
Others
’ by outsiders and ‘
Ours
’ by the
locals, enables the creation of a ritual from the carnival, which sustains high levels of localand foreign participation.Although various forms of carnivals had been celebrated in the region since the 14
th
century,the Cologne carnival only took its form of organised celebration in 1823, with the founding
of the “Festordnendes Komitee”
1
(Festkomitee Koelner karneval von 1823). Besidesformalising the carnival celebration, the modern carnival also established new traditionswithin itself such as the Rose Monday Parade (Abbott, 2008 p. 102).
1
 
The predecessor of today’s Festive Committee
(Festkomitee Koelner karneval von 1823).
 
Pan Pan Gong 2010 University of Melbourne2
Despite the fact that the modern Cologne carnival began as
a “break in continuity”
(Hobsbawm, 1983 p. 7) from the traditional carnival, thus an invention, its proclaimedassociation to the carnival tradition allows it to be accepted by the local community. Themodern carnival was not an actual continuation of the informal street celebration thatbegan in the 14
th
century, instead, its origin was a charity carnival masked ball and party in1822. With its success
, “a group of mostly young men from Cologne’s upper class *took+
control of it, remove[d] it from the streets as a private celebration, and transform[ed] itinstead into an official public festival...[whose] intent was [no longer] specifically to fundpublic charities
(Abbott, 2008 p. 102). While it paid homage to the traditional carnivalcelebration, the origin of the modern carnival as a charity event had a completely differentstructure and purpose. In fact, this was an attempt by the Prussians, the new authority whotook over Cologne after the French Revolutionary troops left,
to ‘organise’ th
e streetcarnival which they felt was getting out of hand (Festkomitee Koelner karneval von 1823).The subsequent formation of an organised carnival committee in 1823 altered the unofficialformation of carnivals which sought to rebel against formal establishments and authority,resulting in the creation of an event that does not challenge the authority and was onlycarnivalesque in appearance. This establishment of a carnival organisation is oxymoronic,because it formalises and controls a festival that was anarchistic and rebellious in nature.The outward form of it as a continuation of the carnival tradition is the
sine qua non
which
guaranteed the carnival’s
success and legitimised its subsequent annual repetitions despiteits formalisation. The modern carnival i
s a “conti
nuity [of the traditional carnival which] is
largely factitious”
(Hobsbawm, 1983 p. 2). The Festkomitee rode on the success of thecarnival-like charity event in their organisation of the modern carnival and injected a strongsense of affiliation to the carnival tradition in Cologne.
As Abbott pointed out, this ‘official’Carnival asserted an authenticity and a history that places it ‘above’ its non
-officialsanctioned counterparts (Abbott, 2008 p. 101). This contrived sense of established traditionin the form of an organised carnival injected a symbolic importance to the otherwise lesssignificant celebration. Through the acknowledgement of it being a continuation of tradition,thus integral to their culture, the locals accepted the modern form of carnival, legitimisingits existence.
 
Pan Pan Gong 2010 University of Melbourne3
Having been accepted as an established tradition, the locals naturalised the carnival intotheir culture, and honoured this tradition through their extensive involvement in the festival,from being part of the organising committee and carnival clubs to becoming one of therevellers during the parade. The carnival successfully perpetuated the local culture through
the establishment of “their own past by quasi
-
obligatory repetition”
(Hobsbawm, 1983 p. 2).By recognising it as a part of the local cultural identity, the formalised carnival then became
an official tradition and locals were compelled to honour this ‘tradition’ of theirs through
their participation. As a result, the carnival, which
“at one point g
enerally judged ascontrived or inauthentic [had], in the course of time, [became] generally recognized as
authentic, even by experts”
(Cohen, 1988 p. 379). Furthermore, by repeating the festivalannually, it allows the carnival practice to become a fixture in the local calendar, thus
increasing local’s exposure, sense of attachment and familiarity to the carnival.
 The repetitive occurrence of carnival is essential in creating a sense of loyalty in the locals.Overtime, the carnival has established its own new symbolic traditions by interweavingthem with the old ones and ritualising the practice of the new set of traditions throughrepetition. The modern carnival, slowly introduces its own carnival songs and practises overthe year, which are assimilated by the locals and incorporated in the celebration of thecarnival. With this recurring reinforcement of the carnival spirit and celebration, the carnivalslowly integrates itself with the identity of the locals. Presently, in the 160 carnival societies,there are a total of around 30,000 members
(3% of Cologne’s population)
2
. This indicateshigh levels of committed local participation that sustains
the ‘tradition’ of the Cologne
carnival. On an informal level, families and friends engage in the preparation andcelebration of the carnival together: dressing-up, visiting, and drinking. The highly socialnature of the carnival further enables it to integrate into the local lives right from theirchildhood. The habitualised celebration slowly grew in authenticity as a symbioticrelationship is developed between the local culture and the carnival. The
Koelsches
3
hadincorporated the carnival as an integral part of their local identity, authenticating thecarnival as an event truly owned by the
Koelsches
.
2
2009 statistic from http://www.koelnerkarneval.de/colognecarnivalstudy.html
3
 
Koelsches
are those who were born in Cologne and are seen as the true locals. (cf.
Koelners
who are thepeople who simply live there)

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