The Italian Carnival

So, what is the Italian Carnival, why do people celebrate this, when do they celebrate it, why do they dress up in costumes and what is the importance of the masks? And furthermore, why do Italian say: A carnivale ogni scherzo vale? Read on to find out…

Carnevale is a Catholic festive period which starts after the 6th of January. However, the main festivities and celebrations are carried out in the week preceding Lent. It starts on Thursday (‘Giovedigrasso’) and ends the following week on Tuesday (‘Martedi grasso’), which is the day before Ash Wednesday (‘Il giorno delle ceneri‘).

The word Carnevale comes from the latin “Carnem levare”, meaning ‘remove the meat’ and it refers to the celebrations and feasts preceding Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of Lent when people would fast and abstain from eating meat.

Carnevale is an ancient tradition which was characterised by a period of exuberance, excess, folly, mockery, and a sense of general release. It would be celebrated with theatre and especially with comedies. The main characters, dressed in costumes and wearing a mask (la Maschera), would enact practical jokes at the expense of the rich and powerful.

Today, carnevale maintains its ancient idea of mockery and of making fun of the powerful. For example with the elaborate carnival floats which are paraded in the major cities. Some of the most famous celebrations are in Venice and Viareggio, but most cities will have a celebratory parade.

Children celebrate Carnevale by dressing up in costumes and a mask, taking to the streets and throwing confetti and streamers around.

Food is always important in any Italian celebration and at carnevale Italians eat a special type of sweet fritter. It is eaten in all Italian regions but called with different names. In some regions they are known as chiacchiere, in others frappe or bugie, cenci, carafoi, etc.

The famous saying of carnival is: a carnevale ogni scherzo vale. At carnival all tricks, jokes and practical jokes are allowed, so be careful when you open your door, a bag of flour might just fall on your head!

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