Layer 1

Carnival - The tradition of the Italian masquerade

Carnival is celebrated in countries with a Christian tradition and in particular in those with a Catholic rite: the celebrations often take place in public parades in which playful and imaginative elements dominate, in particular, the distinctive and characterising element is the use of masking.

What are its origins?

According to the most accredited interpretation, the word 'carnival' derives from the Latin carnem levare ("eliminate the meat"), as it indicated the banquet held on the last day of Carnival (Shrove Tuesday), immediately before the period of abstinence and fasting of the Lent.

The major celebrations take place on Shrove Thursday and Shrove Tuesday, or the last Thursday and last Tuesday before the beginning of Lent. In particular, Shrove Tuesday is the closing day of the carnival celebrations, given that Lent in the Roman rite begins with Ash Wednesday.

The characteristics of the celebration of the carnival have origins in very ancient festivities, such as the Greek Dionysian (the anthesteria) or the Roman Saturnalia.

During the Dionysian and Saturnalia festivals there was a temporary release from social obligations and hierarchies to make way for the overthrow of order, joking and even debauchery.

What are the best known Carnival parties in Italy?

The Carnival of Venice is among the most fascinating and elegant carnivals in the world.

It has its roots in the era of the Serenissima and has enchanted ever since with finely crafted artistic masks created to conceal the identity of those who hid underneath. In fact, historical Venetian masks usually cover the whole face and are accompanied by huge cloaks or nineteenth-century dresses.

The Venice Carnival opens every year with the historic Venetian Festival on the water in which the Rio di Cannoregio comes alive with a masked parade on gondolas.

The Festa delle Marie and the election of the most beautiful mask precede one of the most awaited moments of the Venice Carnival or the flight of the angel in which the Maria winner of the previous Carnival flies over the crowd in Piazza San Marco to give the official start to the festivities .

Another well-known but very different from that of Venice is the Carnival of Viareggio.

The undisputed protagonists of the unbridled Carnival are, as per tradition, the gigantic, provocative and allegorical papier-mâché allegorical floats.

During the long month of Carnival, the districts of the city transform their streets into a stage for shows with live music, dances, open-air kitchens where it is possible to taste the delicious typical dishes of the local cuisine.

What is the typical Italian sweet of Carnival?

One of the carnival specialties that is never lacking on Italian tables are “bugie”, a dessert made with flour, butter, sugar, eggs and an alcoholic component such as brandy, marsala, sambuca, vinsanto or grappa; the dough is cut into strips and baked or fried. 

Finally, the dessert is dusted with icing sugar or, in some variants, it can be covered with honey, jam or chocolate.

However, each Italian region calls this sweet in its own way: the term “Bugie” is used in Piedmont and Liguria; they are called “Chiacchiere” in Lombardy and Campania; “Cenci” in Tuscany, “Frappe” in Central Italy and so on.

Whatever you call them, they are a must try dessert, simple to make and tasty to eat!