Carnevale: How to Say Mardi Gras in Italian
Although this festival probably dates as far back as ancient Egypt, the modern celebration is linked to the Catholic church and celebrates the last days of feasting before the fasting of Lent begins. Indeed, the name derives from the Latin word for "meat," a food which is not allowed during Lent. It is thought that the tradition of wearing costumes during the practice of raucous activities was acquired from the barbarian tribes who invaded from the north in the Middle Ages. Today, each town and city has its own way of celebrating Carnevale. We've compiled details for some of the most spectacular.


The world's three major carnival celebrations are held in Rio, New Orleans and Venice. It's wild and colorful everywhere but perhaps nowhere is the mayhem as elegant as in Venezia. The ancient local art of mask-making is unequaled anywhere on earth, and each year the locals dedicate vast amounts of imagination, energy and money to creating an elaborate 18th-century costume that will outshine all others.

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Viareggio is a lively seaside village in northwestern Tuscany. Its Carnival is actually older than Venice's but rather than focus on the glories of a bygone era, it is highly contemporary, with wildly expensive floats that parody modern life. In 2010, for instance, it featured the float pictured here, portraying several politicians and entitled Eur Iz Da Parti? (see if you can get the double entendre!). This world famous event attracts hundreds of thousands of people to its parades. There are loads of other spectacular events, musical comedies, sports competitions, and food and wine tasting, all of which will offer everyone an unforgettable Carnival celebration.


One of the most famous Sicilian carnivals is hosted in the beautiful historic center of Acireale amidst its magnificent Baroque buildings and Cathedral. The colorful allegorical floats, which are made with paper-mâché and flowers, parade through the streets and the onlookers are invited to join in and actively participate in the merrymaking. There is a rich program of events to assure everyone has a memorable Carnival time in Acireale.


The Historical Carnival of Busseto, in the province of Parma. There will be lots of activities and events to watch and take part in during the weekends: costume parades, marching bands, parades with various themed floats, musical performances, and gastronomic stands with delicious traditional local food and wines. Through it all, several tons of colored confetti will rain down on the lucky pedestrians who crowd the fun-filled streets of Verdi's home town.


The Carnival of Mamoiada is one of the oldest folkloristic events in Sardinia. This three-day celebration offers the entire community of Mamoiada a chance to gather in the village main square and dance wearing the traditional Sardinian masks, the Mamuthoes and Issohadores. On Fat Tuesday, the last day of Carnival, the mask of Juvanne Martis Sero, which symbolizes the death of Carnival, is tied to a cart and drawn through the streets by the village men. As the cart passes, the crowds cry and sing songs of consolation to mourn the ending of Carnival. At the end of the mask's journey, everybody feasts on traditional Sardinian dishes and local wines.


The Carnival of Offida goes back to the 1700s and still today two folklore traditions continue to highlight the Carnival celebrations in this lovely hilltop town in the Marche Region. The first tradition is called Lu Bov Fint (The Ox Hunt) and it takes place on Friday afternoon, the day after Fat Thursday. The tradition calls for a group of young people, dressed up in traditional costumes, to frantically run through the streets of the village and catch a fake ox. The second is the Vlurd (The Procession of the Burning Sheaves) held on the night of Fat Tuesday. All the townspeople, who are dressed in traditional local costume, walk in a single file procession through the village streets carrying burning sheaves to a bonfire in the main square. This procession, which resembles a snake on fire, marks the end of Carnival.


For five consecutive Sundays, the Carnival of Europe will be held in the city of Cento. The spectacular allegorical papier-mâché floats are the prime attraction of the celebration. The competition to build the best float amongst the Cento float builders is stiff; every year the various associations of float builders construct an array of extraordinary floats, in hope of winning the coveted Best Float Award. Carnival celebrations have been taking place in Cento since the 1600s. In 1993, the Carnival of Cento became associated with the Rio de Janeiro Carnival and now features the participation of dazzling samba dancers from one of the most important Carioca samba schools, giving an even more lively and electrifying atmosphere to Carnival.


In Ivrea, the traditional march of the pipe and drum band, through the piazzas and the streets, officially opens every Historic Carnival season on January 6th. Every year's program is filled with numerous celebrations, events and cultural initiatives, but the highlight of the Ivrea Carnival is always The Battle of the Oranges, the re-enactment of the medieval revolt led by the townsfolk to overthrow their despotic ruler Count Ranieri. This battle represents for the people of Ivrea the liberation of their ancestors and is considered one of the most famous Carnival happenings in the world.

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Click here for a gorgeous Venice Carnival Photo Album by Irmingard Anna Kotelev

[Regions of Italy]