Lent starts today and before the self-imposed sobriety of the period begins, the Italians celebrate with one final party – Carnevale.
There is still much conjecture as to the origins of the festival but it seems pretty likely that it has its roots in one of the pagan festivals celebrated by the Romans.
The Church wasn’t able to eliminate it from the local’s calendar (who would want to give up a good party) and so, during the Middle Ages, assimilated it into the Christian calendar.
Traditionally, the celebration lasted between three and four weeks and concluded on Martedi Grasso (Fat Tuesday).
It remains a big winter festival in Italy but each region celebrates it slightly differently.
Most tastes are catered for and a few of the notable events in the North of Italy include:
- Venice, which remains the home of the Masquerade Ball and claims to have held the original festival in 1094;
- Verona, which claims to have the oldest festival (1615 – note the contradiction with the claim above!) and throws 15 tonnes of sweets out as part of their parade – this fact gets them on our list;
- Viareggio, which has such well regarded and comprehensive parades that it charges admission;
- Pont-St-Martin, which has a roman-themed party that culminates in people wearing togas burning an effigy of the devil on a 2,000 year old bridge;
And finally our favourite
- Ivrea, a small town north of Turin, where the locals throw some 400 tonnes of oranges at each other…
Locally, celebrations appear to be pretty low key and much more about the children. Bra was advertising a large parade on Saturday afternoon and Monforte had arranged their festivities for Tuesday. Saturday was a beautiful sunny and warm day here, so we decided to ‘double-dip’ on the Carnevale experience.
Bra’s celebrations wouldn’t exactly rival those of Rio but nonetheless, the parade was charming for its lack of floats and the relaxed approach to its organisation (the parade was organised by the ‘youth of Bra’).
The centre of town was closed to traffic for a couple of hours, a sound system was mounted on a home-made trailer and attached to the back of a BMX, a couple of dance schools were loosely organised to follow behind and the rest of us were invited to join in with the throwing of confetti considered obligatory.
We joined in the parade as it passed us and the Boys had a ball – Master T spent much of the time perfecting his aim with handfuls of confetti and Master S just watched the madness!
Yesterday’s event in Monforte was slightly lower key (principally because it was aimed at the younger children) but equally as chaotic and fun.
The local piazza was closed to cars, games were organised for the kids (a series of bags filled with lollies and confetti were hung across the piazza – piñata-style) and an afternoon tea ’Carnevale-style’ was provided. In Piemonte the traditional Carnevale pastry is called bugie or ‘sweet lies’ – fried strips of pastry (plain or filled with jam), dusted in icing sugar and absolutely delicious!
As the biggest tradition of Carnevale is dressing up or wearing masks, the children came dressed in all sorts of costumes. Countless Pirates, Cinderellas and Zoros (plus two little Australian panda bears) then spent the afternoon throwing confetti and streamers, playing ‘pranks’ and generally running riot.
After having lots of fun with the children of the local community, I expect we will be picking confetti out of our hair and pockets for weeks to come!