February and Carnival traditions


We know that Carnival is one of those entertaining holidays, especially for children, but when it comes to honoring local traditions, even adults don't hold back and are ready to dress up and celebrate. According to tradition, Carnival is the period that precedes Lent and ends on Shrove Tuesday, which precedes Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Historically it is considered as a period of celebration and renewal and, according to the calendar of ancient Rome, the period we dedicate to it today could coincide with the end or the beginning of the year.

The origins date back to Ancient Rome with pagan rites in honor of the god Saturn. The etymological meaning of the word derives from the Latin expression "Carnem Levare", which means to abstain from meat, just as occurs in the period before Easter. Especially in Rome, as well as in the other provinces of the Roman Empire, the use of masks was expected during the Saturnalia celebrations. These popular feasts included rich banquets in which both nobles and poor took part who, thanks to the use of masks, prevented them from being recognized, thus allowing them to indulge in any kind of wantonness.

The history of the Carnival says that the Italian masks represent vices and virtues of the people, but also of the bourgeois and noble class and that each city has its own traditions starting with parades, floats, masked parties and musical performances. Famous all over the world is the Venetian Carnival, one of the oldest and most fascinating in Europe. The exact beginning of this tradition is not known, but it is thought that it all began during the eighteenth century where disguise and incognito games with the help of masks were an integral part of Venetian daily life.

But let's get to the fun part of this holiday. Which dress to wear or who to impersonate? There are those who choose to follow the traditions and therefore dress up in the typical costumes of their city or those who decide to dress as icons of the moment or sometimes even abstract objects. One is therefore spoilt for choice. Those who are more traditional may find it nice to know the meaning of the oldest disguises in some Italian regions.

Let's start with the most famous mask in the world ...

Arlecchino (Harlequin) is the famous Lombard mask, whose mother, very poor, sewed him the traditional costume with cloth remnants of various colors. The characteristic qualities of him are agility, vivacity and quick joke.

Pulcinella is the oldest mask of the Neapolitan Italian tradition, and its birth coincides with the origins of the Carnival. Its main features are the sobriety of the movements and the wit of the dry and biting jokes.

Colombina, an equally ancient Venetian mask, who, as evidenced by Plautus' comedies, is the sly and mischievous handmaid ready to help her mistress.

Gianduja is the Piedmont mask that identifies the gentleman with a good spirit, who likes wine, happiness and whose distraction is proverbial.

Meneghino, originated in Milan, represents the rough but good-natured servant, ready to help those in difficulty, as well as to mock the defects of the nobles.

Each Italian region therefore has a lot to tell and celebrate. In the island of Capri it is customary to celebrate and parade disguised as Pulcinella along the streets of the historic center, featuring many shows. Unfortunately, planning such an event in this particular period of pandemic will not be possible, but we all hope to be able to return to relive these beloved Holidays soon.