Colorful, funny, and playful: this is the Italian carnival!
We all can remember how it was when we were children to dress up and pretend to be a hero, a princess, or anything we wanted to be. As children, we used to dress up and realize the dream to be whoever we wanted for one day while throwing confetti running in the streets of our own city, and play each other funny jokes. In the 21st century Italy, this is what this festivity looks like for children, while their grandmothers watch them from the windows while preparing the homemade frappe and castagnole, the typical Carnival desserts. And while the children trembly wait for the specific day when Carnevale will fall, their parents try to explain to them the meaning of the festivity and its connection with Easter. But children are just hypnotized by the intense colors and eccentric costumes all around the Italian cities.
Carnival is known and celebrated all around the world, but it is really a Catholic feast, and the period characterized by this special festivity is usually considered to begin after the Epiphany and it lasts until the Tuesday before the Ash Wednesday, the begin of the Lent. The peak moment of this feast period is between the Fat Thursday and the Fat Tuesday, which is, in fact, Carnival. Indeed, in Italy during the period that goes from the 26th of December to the Fat Tuesday the sacred meets the profane with continuous parties, traditions, ceremonies, processions, and parades.
Carnival is what connects the many and so different areas of Italy, from north to south, cities are full of colors, rituals, and typical masks and characters. Italian cities during Carnival are something no one should miss, mostly the children, who will love and enjoy the atmosphere that fills all the streets.
Carnevale di Venezia
Among the many great Carnival celebrations in the world, you would surely know the Carnival of Venice, which is considered the most famous one. Music and colors characterize the celebration in this very peculiar city, which hosts parades on the alleys, squares, and on the beautiful canals.
The Celebrations of the Carnival in Venice
Celebrating the Carnival in Venice gives people the opportunity to spend this festivity as they have never done before and barely will again. The festival in Venice starts with the Volo dell’Angelo, which literally means “Flight of the Angel”: in Piazza San Marco, the godmother of the tradition, usually a young woman, climbs down from the San Marco bell tower wearing a white dress, to reproduce the tradition from the period of the Doges. Then, the Festa sull’Acqua, “Party on the Water”, is all about small costume vessels pass by all the Canal Grande, starting from Punta della Dogana and arriving at Rio Cannaregio, where an aperitif is offered to the spectators. The Festa delle Marie is another typical celebration taking place during the Carnival of Venice, where the Maria of the year is elected among 11 participants. The eleven girls parade, wearing the historic Venetian costumes, from San Piero di Castello to Piazza San Marco and the winner will also be the godmother, and performer of the Volo dell’Angelo, the following year.
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Night Carnival Costume Parties in Venice
Besides the many daily festivals, during the night Venice offers many funny costume parties. The majority of these are not accessible, but the one that takes place in the historic palace Ca’ Vendramin Calergi in Cannaregio is open to the public as long as you arrive in costume, and it is based on balls, music, and an entrainment dinner show.
Carnival Culinary Tradition in Venice
However, the Venice Carnival is not only about parties and parades. Being in Italy, even the culinary tradition has huge importance. Since the fists Carnival editions, the streets vendors used to sell all the typical desserts, as the frittelle, galani, and castagnole. During Carnevale, indeed, all the pasty shop sell their frittelle, each of these prepared with a different recipe. You should try more of these to discover which one is your favorite; as these shops are used to do, having a specific competition about the Best Venetian Frittella.
Carnevale di Viareggio
Another Carnival celebration that competes with the Venetian Carnival as the most famous one in the world is the Carnevale di Viareggio. This Tuscan city hosts another very particular Carnival, whose main theme is the social and political satires: for a whole month, parties and huge floats parades characterize the festival, whose beginning is indicated by three cannon shots that come from the sea.
The Celebration of the Carnival in Viareggio: Papier-Mache Moving Floats
Amazing floats made of papier-mache that represent the characters with a technique of the movement that creates the illusion of moving big characters that seem alive characterize the Carnival in Viareggio.
If you are wondering which is the best place to admire the floats parade, you need to think about different aspects. You can watch it from the gallery: the place usually suggested to families with children and elder people to watch the parade. However, the best option for young people would be to stand up and go through the floats: it is very funny to jump and dance while admiring the floats from very near.
The Rioni Parties in Viareggio
Even though the parade is wonderful, it is not the only funny and typical celebration of the Carnival in Viareggio. After the procession, the party continues in the Rioni (typical districts): Darsena, Marco Polo, Torre del Lago, and Croce Verde. Here at 7.00 pm, the streets get full of masked people who freely stay masked in the streets to eat, dance, and enjoy the party. A special event of this celebration is on the last day of the festival when the cannon shot marks the end of the party and the fireworks enlight the sky, which can be admired from Mazzini Square.
Carnival Culinary Tradition in Viareggio
In the Rioni, some kitchens are placed in the streets, so people can taste grilled fish and meat with a glass of good wine or a hot punch.
The Cittadella del Carnevale
The Cittadella is an architectonic complex made of sixteen laboratories where the carristi create their floats. It is entirely dedicated to the creation and conservation of the Viareggio Carnival and hosts the Museo del Carnevale, where people can admire how masks are created, from the idea to its realization.
Carnevale di Acireale
In the south of Italy, Acireale Carnival is the most beautiful celebration of this festivity in the wonderful Sicily. It is a big and colorful party, complete of masks and papier-mache floats full of colors that go all around the beautiful baroque streets of the city center. In 2017, the English newspaper The Guardian referred to the Acireale Carnival as one of the 10 most beautiful Carnival in Europe in its article “10 of Europe’s Best Alternative Carnivals”.
The Celebration of the Carnival in Acireale: the Numerous Parade Floats
Traditionally the program of the festival was different from what people in Acireale celebrate today. Today, the allegorical floats parade the last Saturday, the Sundays, Thursdays, and the Fat Tuesday; the cars decked with flowers march all the days from the last Saturday to the Fat Tuesday.
In April, the floats decked with flowers constitute another specific demonstration (the Carnevale dei Fiori, “Carnival of the Flowers”), when all the city is set up with floral decorations.
The celebration ends with an award ceremony and the traditional fireworks to burn the Re Carnevale, “King Carnival”, on the evening of the Fat Tuesday.
Huge papier-mache or roman carton made floats about satiric and social costumes topics are called the Allegorical-Grotesque Floats. These are characterized, of course, by their arguments, but also by their colors and the light and movement effects that turn on once in Piazza Duomo, Piazza Indirizzo, Villetta Garibaldi, and Porta Gusmana. These floats are created by the carristi, who work on their projects for months before the festival.
Floats Decked with Flowers
The floats decorated with flowers were introduced in the tradition in 1931 when they were real cars covered with flowers. Today, they are huge floats where hundred of flowers create the figures with the use of lights and movements.
Some floats are created as miniature, specifically for the traditional contest that takes place during the celebration. Some of these are the miniature representations of the same allegorical-grotesque floats.
A sort of itinerant fun fair is also installed in Acireale, near Largo Francesco Vecchio, for the occasion of the Carnival.
These three are only the most famous and beautiful Carnival celebrations in Italy, but we can say that everywhere in Italy on that period cities are full of parties, costumes, and people ready to enjoy the festivity connected with fun and carefreeness. Carnevale di Cento, Carnevale di Ivrea, and Carnevale di Fano are other three very beautiful cities that host funny and elaborated festivals in this period of the year, even if not so important as the three mentioned before.
If you come to Italy in this period, be sure to pass to one of these cities and do not miss the amazing Carnevale Italiano!