Fasnacht: Winter Carnival in Lucerne
Growing up in the US, I was aware of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, but didn't realize it was part of a larger, global tradition of carnivals and festivities prior to the Lenten season. In Lucerne, we have Fasnacht. It is a week-long celebration with parades, costumes and marching bands. It is crazier than you could imagine, especially considering how normally reserved and controlled the Swiss are.
First, it starts on "Dirty Thursday" with cannons going off at 5am to the raucous cheers of already-drunk and costumed revelers. The costumes themselves are incredibly impressive and usually involve a complicated mask to hide the wearer's identity. And unlike Halloween, the costumes are not about being cute, sexy and showing lots of skin. It's the middle of winter here and these people plan on being outside all day, so the costumes are usually full-body numbers of fur or leather. Think full-size bear suit. They're really creative though and many times politically-incorrect or satirical. Often times you'll see entire groups with a theme - my favorite guys this year were dressed in Mexican ponchos and had large blocks, with which they kept building a wall....
There are several parades, but of course I missed them as I was at work (many Swiss actually take the entire week off work to participate), but I did catch some of the marching bands (also all in themed costumes) playing their "Guggenmusik" around town. And I saw quite a few drunk frogs on my train.
The weather this year was amazing, so it was even more crazy and crowded in town than usual. One year I might actually dress up and participate, but it's equally entertaining just walking around and capturing it all on film.