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THE PRIDE OF OUR CULTURE: The Carnevale Festival in Italy


e Carnevale is both an acclaimed Italian festival and a Catholic holiday that is celebrated the day before Ash Wednesday, 40 days before Easter. The festival incorporates a substantial amount of merrymaking. It involves huge parades with great, creative floats displaying paper mâché characters, fancy masks, and tons of brightly colored confetti. For the Catholics it is their last chance to revel in gluttony before turning their attentions to the more pious rituals of the Easter season. The date varies each year, depending on the Easter date. Generally, it begins around two to four weeks before Ash Wednesday and for most, it ends on Fat Tuesday.

The rich and vibrant celebration of Carnevale can be traced all the way back to the ancient civilizations. At the time the participants painted their faces and bodies, as they danced and chanted in observance of the earth's re-birth during the springtime. It eventually evolved into the Roman Saturnalia festival. Through the centuries, it survived many obstacles set by wars, bans, and restrictions while it continued to evolve its rituals honoring fertility and nature's rebirth. In Italy today, most city, town, even the smallest village celebrate the event over several weekends.
Currently, the most elaborate Carnevale celebrations happens in Venice. It was first observed in the year 1162, as a way of celebrating the victory of Venice over its enemy: Aquileia. At the time, the people gathered in Saint Mark's Square (San Marco) to celebrate their victory. In subsequent years, the Carnevale festival expanded to include other rituals. Sadly, now-a-days the "celebrants" probably have no idea where and how it originated. Today's interest is to have fun while keeping the ancient cultural ritual relevant! With each passing year, the celebration has swelled into an excessive number of elaborate costumes and masks. Since its inception in 1162, The Venice Carnival was celebrated yearly for several centuries, until it was outlawed in 1797 by the Holy Roman Emperor, Francis II. People, however, still gathered in the privacy of their home to add a splash of merrymaking to the gloomy and cold winter month of February. Of course, it was not celebrated at the same level of merriment that it is known for today! In 1979, the Italian government, as a way of improving commerce for the region decided to help Venice re-establish the festival and preserve its culture for the future generations. Today, about 3 million tourists visit Venice to participate in La Festa Veneziana (The Venice Carnival). The huge crowds render Venice to be the host to the biggest carnival celebration in Italy.
Other popular Carnevale in Italy take place in:
Viareggio, Tuscany
Here the celebration is mostly known for their magnificent papier mâché floats, meticulously engineered, and intended to ridicule important politicians and dignitaries. The float-makers invest an entire year of work prior to the Carnevale to have their creations ready! For this year, it is celebrated during Feb 4 – 25
Acireale, Sicily
This celebration is described as one of Italy’s most beautiful Carnevale. This is due to the wide-ranging intricacy of their flower floats and displays of lights. Ironically here the Carnevale originated as a ritual of throwing rotten eggs and lemons at the celebrants, until it was banned and replaced with the flower floats, poets and intricate flower displays. ( Feb 4 – 21, 2023)
Ivrea, Piedmont
The Carnevale of Ivrea is the most unique in the entire Italy. The honor is due to the yearly enactment of a huge orange battle between soldiers with helmets in carriages and the unprotected citizens in the streets. The battle is their last ritual, and it brings their Carnevale to a close.
(Feb 18 - 21, 2023)
Putignano, Puglia
The ancient town of Putignano, home of the trulli houses and interesting caves, hosts the oldest and longest Carnival celebration in the entire Italy. It lasts no less than two months. It originated on December 26,1394 and the celebration starts on Santo Stefano, December 26th and ends on Fat Tuesday. From December 26th to January 17th, the celebration takes place every Thursday. After January 17th, the ritual becomes a daily occurrence, and it culminates with a funny and highly eccentric funeral procession to express their sadness for the end of their festivities. For this year, the main events are set for Jan 19 – Feb 21
Fano, Le Marche
This Carnevale is the sweetest Carnevale of them all. The masked jesters on the floats toss hundreds of pounds of sweets, candies and chocolates to the crowds below who come fully equipped with cones or other means to catch the treats! (Feb 5 - 19, 2023)
Cento, Emilia Romagna
Here the citizens of Cento "construct" a character, named Luigi Tasini to serve as their "king" during the Carnevale . At the end of the festival, Tasi is burned in a bonfire, his will is read aloud, and his imaginary possessions are given to the prominent citizen of town. (Feb 5 - Mar 5, 2023)
Milan, Lombardy
The Milan celebration has little uniqueness of its own. The importance rests in its timing. Their last event is celebrated on the Saturday, after Fat Tuesday. Hence it is the very last Carnevale event celebration of the year throughout Italy. For this year, the last celebration is set for
Feb 25, Sat after Ash Wed.
All over Italy, preparations for the Carnival take months and the props are often created by local families and businesses. The characters on the floats generally depict a vast bunch of politicians, fairy tales or spooky fictional characters. Each float has a unified story to tell. The parades generally follow an established route and are held mostly on weekends. In addition to the parades, contests for the best costume and the best float and special events for children are also featured. Most Carnevale culminate with a display of fireworks and for some with a sort of symbolic feature to mark the end of the event.
Additionally, all the Carnevale celebrations showcase an array of food. Yearly, an extensive variety of dishes are prepared, such as fried cheese-filled croquettes, or half-moon potatoes from the Friuli Venezia Giulia region, etc. Sweets and desserts are also welcomed. They include fried doughnut balls, sometimes filled with apples; rice or custard known as frittelle; castagnole or favette; etc. and the regions of Sardinia and Umbria serve fried Zeppole filled with custard, chocolate, or cream.
All in all, Carnevale is a symbolic celebration that represents a transition between the lavish lifestyle and the simple living of Lent in preparation for the Easter celebration.

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