The art of... Carnival

Carnival is a party that I have always liked and that I miss being able to participate as when I was little. I loved dressing up and throwing confetti left and right, interacting with other children and eating chiacchiere (or cenci, or bugie as they call them elsewhere) to no end.

Every year I expected to celebrate it and to enjoy the spectacle of floats and masks, but unfortunately growing up and dedicating myself to other things, it began to escape me more and more, until I almost completely lost sight of it, so much so that I realized its annual passage only at the end.


Where does the carnival come from?

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

The first evidence of the use of the word "carnival" (also called "carnevalo") comes from the texts of the jester Matazone da Caligano at the end of the 13th century and of the storyteller Giovanni Sercambi around 1400.

The characters of the carnival celebration have very ancient origins, such as the Greek Dionysian (the antesterie) or the Roman saturnalia. During the Dionysian and Saturnal festivals there was a temporary dissolution of social obligations and hierarchies to make way for the overthrow of the order, the joke and even debauchery. From a historical and religious point of view, the carnival represented, therefore, a period of celebration but above all of symbolic renewal, during which chaos replaced the established order, which however, once the festive period was over, re-emerged new or renewed.

The beginning of the carnival period is traditionally fixed on the day following the Sunday of the Baptism of the Lord.

It ends on the Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of Lent. The climax is from Mardi Gras to Tuesday, the last day of carnival. This period, being connected with Easter (movable feast), has no fixed but variable annual recurrence. In reality, Catholic Easter can fall from March 22 to April 25 (calculation of Easter) and 46 days elapse between Ash Wednesday and Easter. It follows that in non-leap years Mardi Gras falls from February 3 to March 9. For this reason, the main events are generally concentrated between the months of February and March.


It is celebrated in countries of Christian tradition and in particular in those of the Catholic rite, that is, Europe and America.


In many of the countries of these continents Carnival is celebrated on the same days, but for others Carnival is only in name and has nothing to do with religious tradition, or it is simply celebrated at different times of the year.

For example, in the United Kingdom the Notting Hill Carnival, in London, is not celebrated during the Carnival period, but in August and therefore its relationship with the carnival is only in the name, due to the fact that the parade is led by the members of the community of the West Indies of London, of Catholic tradition.

However, the common element remains: dress up.

Since its inception the tradition of dressing up has always been present, but the concept behind it has changed: if at the beginning it was to celebrate the rebirth to a new life, now it mainly represents the game and the joke. At least once a year we wear the clothes of characters different from what we are in reality, identifying with them. A bit like Halloween, but without chasing away sprites.

Unlike this, however, there are no rules on what to wear: we can have both costumes of famous people, both animals, and everyday objects. There is no limit to the fantasy of clothing and this favors to make the days even more playful. If, on the other hand, you want to keep a more elegant tone, fluffy dresses and white porcelain masks are available to those who do not like extravagance, very easy to find during the celebrations in Venice.

In addition to costumes, confetti and sweets, what absolutely must not be missing at Carnival are the parades of the floats.

An allegorical chariot is a one or two storey chariot in which it is possible to distinguish the allegorical figure of a character. During the processions allegorical floats are paraded topped by figures built in papier-mâché, which generally represent in an ironic way some current events or themes of various kinds. The most famous that immediately come to mind to mention are the Carnival of Viareggio, in Italy, and the Carnival of Rio, in Brazil.


Years pass, but the joy of Carnival never seems to wane.

Just as our ancestors celebrated it to indulge in a few days of chaos and madness, we follow the same principle and will continue to do so in the future. After all, is it impossible to resist the temptation to run through the streets disguised in a funny way.


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