West Virginia festival is the country cousin to Mardi Gras

HELVETIA, W.Va. (AP) - Fasnacht is the country cousin to Mardi Gras - not as big and brash as the Louisiana carnival, but a pre-Lent party nonetheless. And it has a dual purpose: to scare away Old Man Winter.

In the West Virginia hamlet of Helvetia , the descendants of Swiss and German immigrants joined hundreds of people from across the state Saturday night to celebrate traditions that date back to the Druids.

They square-danced and drank, wearing scary costumes and masks. Some partied until just before dawn.

But the music was fiddles and guitars, not jazz. And with freezing temperatures, the costumes don't show skin.

The attempt to scare away the chilly weather doesn't always work: On Sunday, snow was still on the ground.

Helvetians say the magic takes time.