By Darren Lum
Last week during March break, a small group of revellers were finding joy from experiencing Karneval at the A.J. LaRue Arena in Haliburton courtesy of the Mardus family.
Karneval is an annual festivity in Germany with religious origins. It was an opportunity for people to indulge before Lent – a 40 day period observed by Catholics when they prepare for Easter by not consuming sweets or meat or not drink alcohol. The annual festivity varies from area to area in Germany, but some one million celebrate in the biggest version in the country in Cologne, where everyone is partying for the week. It’s where the Mardus family experienced it and fell in love. The week includes children off from school, massive parades, with elaborate floats where candy is tossed to spectators, and costumes. Depending on where the event is held, it has a few different names such as Fastnatcht and Fasching.
Married couple Meghan and Paul Mardus had worked as teachers at an international school and lived in Cologne, Germany from 2010 until 2019 when they moved to Haliburton to be closer to family. Bringing the German tradition back here was for their eldest children, Evelyn and Julian who were born in Germany, they said.
“It’s such a significant part of Cologne culture. It was so significant, so important to our kids that we thought, even though there’s so many amazing things they’re going to embrace in Canada [including] traditions they’re going to learn … there are still some things from our time in Cologne we want to bring over,” he said. “Yeah, so that kind of connection to a place where they were born.”
He said although the children have taken to their Canadian life here, they missed Karneval.
“You know, they were excited to move to Canada, but that was one thing that they were sad about missing, [which] was Karneval. So, we thought, well, if we could bring a little bit of that here and introduce it to kids in Haliburton [than that would be ideal],” he said.
The couple, who are originally from Canada, had originally thought they would be in Germany for two or three years, but that extended to the point where their two eldest were born there. They moved back to where Meghan’s family are from. Her father is Bob Chambers, who grew up in Carnarvon. Her parents retired here.
She acknowledged the religious origins, but recognized the timing of the event.
“It just seems like something fun to do in the middle of winter when you have the February [and] March doldrums. When you’re getting tired of winter time it’s just great fun to get out and celebrate with people. Costumes are always fun, especially for candy, costumes, candy and dancing,” he said.
Karneval in Cologne was held Feb. 22 to March 2, but the Haliburton version was held to coincide with March break. Paul said it’s almost like a second Halloween for children here.
Last year, the Mardus family held a small Karneval. With this year’s event, they included about six friends for each of their children, with family to attend the event held at the A.J. LaRue Arena in Haliburton. This shared the German tradition with a few dozen people and has given birth to hope for future events.
The Haliburton event may have been two weeks after the German version, but it was perfect timing, as far as it goes with March break.
Ukraine is not far from thoughts, particularly with family directly affected.
Paul’s parents are both born in Germany. His sister, who was born in Canada is now living in Germany after marrying a German citizen. His extended family is in the eastern region of Germany where they have welcomed Ukrainian refugees into their village.
“As fun as it is, we’re still mindful that you know many people, many children in Ukraine and across Europe, these are tough times,” he said.
The event included a raffle, which helped to raise more than $100 for the Red Cross to support the Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal.
“We had 45 people in attendance (our family included), which was a good number given that Covid is still a consideration. But there is definitely room at the arena for more guests, and we will invite even more families from our kids’ school and hockey communities next year!” Meghan said.