The Carnival of Basel (German: Basler Fasnacht) is the biggest carnival in Switzerland and takes place annually between February and March in Basel.
The Basler Fasnacht starts on the Monday after Ash Wednesday at precisely 4:00 am with the so-called Morgestraich. The carnival lasts for exactly 72 hours and, therefore, ends on Thursday morning at 4:00 am. During this time the Fasnächtler (the participants) dominate the old town of central Basel, running free in the streets and restaurants. Basler Fasnacht is often referred to as die drey scheenschte Dääg ("the three most beautiful days").
The approximately 18,000 active Fasnächtler are dressed up in a wide variety of costume designs, including a mask known as a Larve. Members of the various Cliques wear uniform costumes that fit a specific theme, except for during Morgestraich and Fasnacht Tuesday. It is very common for costumes to represent famous persons, such as politicians, or even comic characters or animals. There are also more traditional masks that are reminiscent of Napoleonic soldiers, harlequins (Harlekin) and the famous Waggis.
Most of the groups choose a Sujet (French: theme) for the Fasnacht. These Sujets usually refer to recent events and are presented in a sarcastic manner. These Sujets can be seen on lanterns during Morgenstreich and in the costumes worn by Clique members during the Cortège. Most Cliques also distribute Zeedel (flyers containing ironic verse).
One of the oldest formations are the Cliques, who march through the old town playing the piccolo and basler drum. A Clique usually consists of a Vortrab (vanguard), the Pfeifer (pipers), the Tambourmajor (drum major) and the Tambouren (drummers).
Marching brass bands playing Guggenmusik are another formation present during Carnival. These Gugge will not participate on Morgestreich, but only at Cortège on Monday, Wednesday, the evenings and especially on Tuesday night when they hold their Gugge-Concerts.
There are also many non-Clique individuals and small groups known as Schyssdräggziigli who wander through the streets. As the Cliques, they play music with piccolo and drums.