Carnevale, otherwise known as Carnival, is the Italian version of Mardi Gras. This celebration takes place on “Fat Tuesday”, as the last hoorah before the 40 days of Lent begin. Originally rooted in pagan tradition, Carnival was adapted to fit into the Catholic rituals surrounding Easter and the Lenten season. Though the day before Ash Wednesday is the official date of celebration, Italians often begin partying for weeks before!
Much like the famous festivities in New Orleans that Americans are familiar with, Carnival is one giant party. This festival is alive with music, entertainment, and parades. There are masquerade balls and costumes and performers throughout the streets as everyone indulges in the fun and reckless spirit of the holiday.
There’s a saying for all of this excitement: a Carnevale ogni scherzo vale. Anything goes at Carnival! This phrase alludes to all the mischief and pranks that are common at the festival. Elaborate masks are a very traditional part of Carnival—perhaps to hide the identity of pranksters!
Carnival is celebrated widely across Italy, however some of the festivals are particularly famous. Venice, Viareggio, and Cento are the places to be if you’d like to experience the most elaborate celebrations in the country.
Venice begins revelries about two weeks before the actual date of Carnival, with nightly festivities throughout the city. The must-see attractions include gondola parades down the Grand Canal, masquerade balls, and elaborate fireworks displays.
Along the Tuscany coast, Viareggio has one of the biggest Carnival festivals in Italy. It is most famously known for the massive papier-mâché floats that parade through the streets on Sundays for weeks before the official date. These parades are so renowned that you must pay admission to see them.
The Carnival of Cento is unique because of the gettito, which is the throwing of vast quantities of candy, balloons, toys, and other knickknacks off of floats and into the crowds. This makes it one of the most spectacular of all the celebrations in Italy.
No matter where you choose to celebrate, it is sure to be a good time. This is one of Italy’s most festive displays of culture and it is definitely an experience worth having.