I’d be lying if I said anything less: Masopust in Roztoky was perhaps one of the most outrageous, hilariously baffling and overall unforgettable days of my college career. From broom-wielding dancers to a monstrous, papier-mache man devouring sausages, Masopust was full of peculiar sights. But, boy, was it glorious.
Masopust, translated simply as “meat fast,” marks the last opportunity for revelers to gorge themselves on food and booze before the month-long restrictions of Lent go into effect. (Think of it as the Czech rendition of Mardi Gras.) And no place does it better than Roztoky, a charming, ultra-tiny town situated just north of Prague.
The more I heard of the legendary reputation of Roztoky’s Masopust, the more it piqued my interest. But, at the same time, the grand image I had built up in my head made me afraid the festival wouldn’t live up to my immense expectations. So, I went in with an open mind, but I also prepared myself to be underwhelmed.
Luckily for me, that was unnecessary. Immediately upon our arrival to Roztoky at 10 a.m., I was swept into the cozy, wholesome aura of the town. Though the parade was still hours away, hundreds of people were already corralled into the town square, with numbers rising dramatically by the minute. The drinking and eating had already commenced, with the majority of the buildings lined with food and drink kiosks and most attendees already clutching a frothy glass of beer. Modestly-dressed old men were playing what sounded like Czech folk music, kids were walking around selling cookies and freshly face-painted attendees grinned from ear to ear. I happily helped myself to a piping hot bowl of pork blood soup, eager to join in on all the excess.
Our group quickly received its own Masopust-appropriate clothes and donned them with genuine delight. Our new wardrobes included colorful hats (often decorated with streamers, sticks, feathers and the occasional bone), fur coats and makeshift skirts crafted out of a tendril-like substance. We were all thrilled with our new style, and many locals seemed to be as well: It seemed that every minute another stranger was coming up take a photo of us or with us. This either meant we looked genuinely good or absolutely ridiculous — but hell, it’s Masopust, what more could we have wanted?
Our motley crew went on to indulge in a variety of Masopust’s many decadent offerings. Amply-sized sausages, jelly-filled donuts, free beer from a barrel: the list of food and drinks went on and on. The highlight was certainly medovina, a pungent-smelling, yet surprisingly sweet honey liqueur mixed with hot water that proved to be both warm to the chest and soothing to the mind and soul.
As we continued our gluttonous escapade, the crowd continued to grow. People were funneling in with the most absurd of costumes and self-fitting floats, my favorites being a 10-foot-tall chicken, a white bucket converted into a Marshmello mask, a hoard of horses and much more. People had formed a circle and begun to dance with one another, and we watched with glee as Máchova building manager Tyna showed us her killer moves. Horns were blaring, people were laughing and drums were beating to no end. It all felt hypnotizing.
By 2:30 p.m., the square was vacated and the parade had begun. My stomach was full, my brain sufficiently buzzed and my heart happy. I had come to think the day was at a close, and I would have very well been content with that. Yet the day was just getting started, and the best was still ahead.
Our group snaked its way through the narrow streets of Roztoky, inching up the weaving hills like ants. Whenever I looked back, I noticed the tremendous sea of people was only getting larger — the parades of other towns were merging with us! I had never seen a mass of people so colorful and absurd, encompassing people of all ages and costumes. Doe-eyed, giddy toddlers walked in harmony with piss-drunk biker dudes. The only landmarks I had to orient myself with were people’s outlandish costumes and floats; if I didn’t see the monstrous man-chicken in front of me, I knew I was lost.
We eventually came to a vast, muddy field. The crowd briefly halted at this spot, waiting for the parades of other towns to arrive. While we waited, people sought the opening to take off their heavy costumes for a rest, or, for those who were especially opportunistic, to relieve themselves while everyone else watched.
It wasn’t long before we continued our epic pilgrimage into the field, led by a small group of women, dancing and twirling with brooms as the drums kept them in tempo. By the time we got through the field, the mud had aggregated into such a thick layer on the base of my shoes that I could barely lift my feet out of the muck. It was like wearing platform shoes made out of densely packed dirt.
Soon, we could make out another sea of paraders in the distance perched on a hill. Our army trudged forwards to merge with them, the sun just beginning to set as we did so. I looked back to see the endless expanse of people lit up by the the sun’s orange and pink rays as we made our way up and down the rolling hills. The image was otherworldly, truly cinematic.
We gathered and created a massive opening to watch the most noteworthy paraders show off their elaborate costumes. Afterwards, as the sun began its descent over the horizon, we all linked hands to create an enormous human circle. It was like one of those corny Coke ads where everyone in the world gets together to sing a song, putting aside all their differences for one moment of preposterous, yet nonetheless awe-inspiring, bliss. A barrage of fireworks was set off soon after, exploding only a few dozen feet above the ground in the center of the circle.
We held hands for a few more minutes until the firework show ended. At that point, the sun had just set, and people had begun their trek back home (or on to the carnival tent, which we unfortunately didn’t have time for). Masopust was really over this time.
Looking back, Masopust was a whirlwind of feelings, sights and people that was completely new to me. I mean it in the best way possible when I say that it came off as both a glimpse of utopia and a nearly cult-like ritual. It was as if Burning Man and a Midwest Renaissance fair had a baby. It was the best kind of chaos, the kind where you just let it wash over you and take you where it may. (Fyre Festival, take note!)
Now that the thrill of Masopust is behind us, I have to wonder: Can we ever match the level of harmony, joy and insanity that it evoked?
Perhaps the medovina, the dancing, the tendril-like skirts and the harmonized peeing will all be rendered distant memories, leaving us forever nostalgic, yearning to revisit that great day in Roztoky. But, at the end of the day, as Humphrey Bogart so famously said (kind of): “We’ll always have Masopust.”