Doing the Mardi Gras Carnevale – Italian Style

‘Carnevale’ in Italy is referred to in the US as ‘Mardi Gras’ or carnival. This takes place after Easter. The Carnevale in Italy is a big party just before Ash Wednesday. Lent restrictions and religious observances are followed strictly during the holiday. Therefore, a big event to faze out the party spirit makes Carnivale a huge hit.

Italy celebrates the Carnevale with a huge winter festival, marked by parades, entertainment, masquerade balls, parties, and music. Children enjoy themselves throwing confetti, raw eggs and flour at each other. Pranks and mischief are shared in Italy with the Carnevale spirit, and thus the saying says; ‘Anything Goes at Carnevale’ or “a Carnevale ogni scherzo vale”.

History of Carnevale in Italy

The roots of Carnevale come from pagan festivals and traditions similar to the other traditional festivals. It was initially adapted to fit as per Catholic rituals. The Carnevale runs for just one day in general, while in Venice and Italy the parties and celebration may start a few weeks earlier. Carnevale in 2019 was held on March 5th. Masks and Maschere, are crucial parts of the Carnevale festival and they are sold in Venice at most shops throughout the year. They are available from standard versions to expensive and elaborate ones. People wear fancy costumes and attend masquerade balls for this festival, both publicly and privately. Italy conducts many Carnevale celebrations, but Venice, Viareggio, and Cento have the most elaborate and most prominent festivals. Many other Italian towns also celebrate the Carnevale festivals, with unique events.

‘Mardi Gras’ History: The Ancient Days

The predecessors of the Italians were the ancient Romans, and like good Italians, they also liked to indulge in a good party lifestyle at all times. Thus, during the winter solstice in mid-December, the feast of ‘Saturnalia’ is celebrated honouring Saturn and Opalia – the God of sowing and seed, and the Goddess of plenty. This is followed by Lupercalia, in February, to celebrate fertility and is also regarded to be Mardi Gras’ forerunner, linked with Valentine’s Day.

How Was it Celebrated?

‘Mardi Gras’ is an Italian Carnevale and is celebrated the same way as other festivals with lots of drinks, food, and general debauchery. In ancient Rome, as the Christian religion grew, the leaders used these pagan festivals as a means to control people instead of trying to outlaw them. The ‘Saturnalia’ and ‘Lupercalia’ celebrations became incorporated into the preparations of the church for the Christ resurrection celebrations – Easter Sunday. Ash Wednesday is the period that starts forty days before Easter with Lent fasting and abstinence.  As the lean period arrived, the Carnevale or the carnival idea was born, and combined ancient Roman feasts creating ‘Mardi Gras’ or more literally, ‘Fat Tuesday’.

The Mardi Gras History

Originally, Mardi Gras was a one-day celebration, the Tuesday just before Ash Wednesday. This was a day the families would use all the fats such as eggs and butter as a preparation for the luxury foods ban that will be followed during the Lent calendar for forty days. This tradition was adopted during the end of the 17th Century by the French who gave it its name and included the dressing-up culture, following which the festival was taken to America and the rest of the world.