2013-2014 Carnival Season Kicks Off in Germany

The cities of Cologne, Mainz and Düsseldorf took center stage on Monday as Germany's Carnival season began on November 11 at 11:11 a.m. Thousands of costumed Carnival participants gathered in the streets to mark the start of festivities that have sometimes been referred to as a "fifth season" or the "silly season."

With brightly-colored wigs, red noses, masks, artistic face paint and unusual clothing, Germans can often be seen wandering the streets in costume to celebrate the beginning of this holiday.

Karneval Enlarge image A lady dressed up for Carnival celebrates the 2013-2014 season in the German city of Düsseldorf. (© dpa) Carnival marks the time period before Lent -- a religious holiday that starts in March and traditionally requires Catholics to refrain from indulging in rich food or drink or throwing parties. Carnival celebrations occur throughout the world in anticipation of this religious period, but there are certain customs associated with those that occur in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. In western Germany, the Rhenish Carnival begins in November and is famous for its costume balls and parades, with the Cologne Carnival being the largest. The Swabian-Alemannic Carnival in southerwestern Germany usually starts in January, with its Fastnacht festival usually occuring on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday.

This year, Düsseldorf alone will host more than 300 costume balls, parties and carnival sessions. There will be an "Old Ladies' Carnival" on February 27, during which women flock to the city hall to cut off mens' ties with a scissor. On March 2, there will be a "Barrel Race," and on Rose Monday, an estimated one-million people will watch a lively Carnival parade in downtown Düsseldorf, according to the North America Office of Düsseldorf Tourism.

The Carnival season in Germany goes on for several months, with the peak of festivities typically occurring in February.