Carnival Season in Italy

From the solemnity of Christmas to the raucousness of New Year’s, revelers of tradition and colorful festivals turn their attention to carnival season.  While the ancient origins of carnival celebrations suggest they were timed as New Year’s festivals, the modern-day carnival evolved to be more closely associated with the beginning of Lent.  The Roman Catholic liturgical calendar recognizes Carnival as the period between the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6) and the beginning of Lent (on Ash Wednesday).

The Carriage dedicated to Donald Trump during the parade. Luca Bertozzi. Photo: Federico Tovoli/VW PICS/UIG

Carnival celebrations are celebrated in many countries.  Perhaps the most colorful and festive are those that are celebrated across Italy during February and March, culminating with parties and celebrations on Shrove Tuesday, which falls on March 1 this year.  Venice may be home to the best-known of Italy’s carnival festivals, but many other important and famous carnivals take place in the Tuscan town of Viareggio and in Ivrea, located north of Turin in northwestern Italy.

First declared a public holiday in 1296, the annual Venice event is often associated with its vibrant and beautiful masks.  The Venetian oligarchy first established the holiday as a period of entertainment and celebration for all citizens.  The masquerade allowed for revelers, regardless of social class, gender or religion, to celebrate together. The importance of the mask faded over time until a modern mask maker helped revive the mask-wearing tradition during the 1970’s.  Parades, outdoor events, and masquerade balls (often at the most famous Venetian palaces) occur during the weeks of the Carnival season, leading to the beginning of Lent.

Officially established in 1808, the famous Carnival of Ivrea commemorates a Middle Ages event in which a tyrant was driven from the city by the people he was accused of starving.  The celebration later evolved to include French soldiers as the villain, in memory of the 19th century occupation by the Napoleanic French. It is from this latter perspective that the annual Battle of the Oranges has become synonymous with the Piedmont town’s festival.  During this tradition, the French troops, represented by revelers on carts; and the citizens of Ivrea on the streets battle for the freedom of Ivrea by throwing oranges at one another. The Ivrea carnival includes parades and floats as well as other festive celebrations.

Battle of the oranges. Traditional carnival. Ivrea, Piemonte, Italy. Photo: Vittorio Sciosia/REDA&CO/UIG

Regardless of where one celebrates carnival, the food is an important part of the festival.  As carnival is associated with partying before the sacrifices of Lent begin, the delicious and often fatty foods of carnival season are extremely popular. Ravioli, cheesy lasagna, frittolis, zeppoles, and the infamous “Fat Beans of Ivrea” all serve to complete the Italian Carnival experience.

February is Carnival Month in Italy.  It is a wonderful time of the year to enjoy Italian culture through the carnival experience.  Folk music, art, parades, culinary feasts, technology and creative floats are all associated with the carnival events sprinkled throughout the country.  

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Italy Magazine; January 29, 2016 and February 5, 2016 issues – The Italian Tourism Board

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