As other parts of the world celebrate Mardi Gras and Carnival, Czechs enjoy their own version of the holiday by drinking alcohol outside in the freezing cold. Known as Masopust, which literally translates to "giving up meat," the festival was historically a final blowout before the beginning of Lent, although scarcely anyone in this largely atheist country keeps a Christian fast anymore. In the Czech countryside, where the older and stranger traditions survive, Masopust has deep pagan roots; the drinking, costumes, and customary pig slaughter are all meant to celebrate the approaching end of winter.
In the village of Hamry u Hlinska, about 100 miles east of Prague, it's fallen to the local fire department to be the stewards of the old Masopust traditions. Starting at dawn, the firemen dress up in colourful costumes, paint their faces with charcoal – which is supposed to be a sign of good luck, not racism. In return, residents bring out plates of sweets, sausages and shots of hard liquor. By afternoon, most of the village is cold, dirty, drunk and well-fed.
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