Carnevale in Italy
Carnevale in Italy is similar to Mardi Gras in the US. It is a two to three week (sometimes longer) period
of festivities before Ash Wednesday (40 days before Easter) and the beginning of the spiritual renewal
period of Quaresima or Lent. Because the date of Easter changes yearly, so does the date for carnival
festivals which can be anywhere from the end of January - March 9. The dates for Carnevale this year
(2016) are January 23 through February 9. During Carevale, daily and nightly events take place and
include all types of merriment: street performances, extravagant costume balls, masquerades, parties,
sumptuous dinners, parades with spectacular floats, music, gondola parades, and games for children.
Beautiful fireworks usually conclude the festivities on the final evening.
One of the distinctive elements of Carnevale throughout Italy are the colorful carri (floats) made of papier-
mâché; often created on a huge scale. These are carefully constructed each year in the months leading
up to Carnival, The floats always have themes related to scathing political satire or current affairs and
feature giant caricatures of politicians or TV personalities.
The largest and most elaborate of all the festivals take place in Venice, Verona (the oldest), Viareggio, and Cento. Carnevale di Venezia is an annual international festival. Venice's Carnival celebration lasts for nearly 2 weeks. A large number of visitors from around the world come to Venice for Carnevale. Events are held nightly in various locations throughout Venice and include masquerade and costume balls, concerts, dinners, and festivals. Elaborate masks and costumes are worn in the public squares, and at parties and balls. Carnevale masks are a big cottage industry in Venice and are sold year round. One of the most important Carnevale events is the contest for the best mask during the last weekend of the Carnival. A jury of international costume and fashion designers votes for "La Maschera piu bella".
Not far from Venice, Verona has one of the oldest carnevale celebrations in Italy, dating from
1615. On the day of Carnival (Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday) Verona has a huge parade
with more than 500 floats. 15,000 kg (about 3,300 pounds) of candy are thrown out into the
The Carnival of Ivrea, which is a town in the Piedmont region, has ancient origins dating back
to the Middle Ages. Today it is best known for its peculiar traditional carnival. The main
celebration centers around the locally famous Battle of the Oranges. This involves thousands
of townspeople divided into teams, who throw oranges at each other. When you walk around
with a red hat in Ivrea during the battle, people say you're wearing the berretto frigio and
therefore you must be free to pass unharmed. The red hat means you won't be throwing
oranges and therefore no one will throw oranges at you.
In Campania, the small town of Montemarano is famous for the Tarantella Montemaranese,
a dancing parade that takes place through town to the lively accompaniment of traditional
music. In the small mountain town of Sirignano northeast of Naples, carnival celebrations
include a dance called Laccio d'Amore. This dance takes places around a tall pole with
couples dancing together while holding onto a long ribbon attached to the top of the pole.
The colored ribbons form an intricate pattern down the pole as the dancers perform this
At Carnival time in Italy there’s an Italian expression, “A Carnevale ogni scherzo vale!”
(“During Carnival anything goes!”). Carnevale is a time to let loose, have fun and enjoy the
rich foods and sweets that are forbidden during the fasting period of Lent.
Of course, Carnevale would not be complete without food. The word
carnevale derives from the Latin “carne vale” or farewell to meat. As
Ash Wednesday approached, people were obliged to fast. In the
south of Italy and especially around Naples, the end of Carnival on Fat
Tuesday, is celebrated by eating Lasagne di Carnevale or Lasagne alla
Napoletana. Families traditionally gather for a large meal that includes
meats, sausages, cheeses and desserts that are avoided during Lent.
The lasagna is made with little meatballs (polpettine), sausage, and
various cheeses. Some recipes also include other types of meat
and/or hard-boiled eggs.
Lasagna di Carnevale
Galani - Fried Carnival Pastries
There are a number of sweets that are typical of Carnevale, too. Fried
pastries are a traditional Italian dessert served during Carnival. They
are usually strips of dough that are fried and dusted with confectioners’
sugar or drizzled with honey. Every region of Italy has its own version
and name for these sweet fried pastries. Chiacchiere, Frappe, Cenci,
Galani, and Bugie are just a few of the names. On the Amalfi Coast,
you might find a drop of limoncello in the pastry dough which adds a
refreshing lemony scent. Fried desserts are common during Carnival
because so many of its traditions developed hundreds of years ago,
before most home kitchens had ovens. Frying was then the most
practical way to prepare dough-based sweets at home. Other
Carnevale desserts include cannoli, cassata, and apostle’s fingers.