In Italy, you just about have time to catch your breath after the festivities of the new year and Epiphany when you begin to see signs that Carnevale - the raucous month-long celebration that precedes the beginning of Lent - is upon you.
The dates vary depending on when Lent begins. This year March 6 is the first day of Lent, so the Carnevale celebrations occur from late February to March 5 (Fat Tuesday).
And what celebrations they are! Colorful, noisy, fun - Carnevale is the ultimate late winter party.
In Italy, the largest and most famous Carnevale celebrations are in Venice and Viareggio, though many other towns also have impressive Carnevale events.
Each city’s celebration has a unique character. In Viareggio, the parade floats are known for political and social themes, making great use of satire and allegory to express current issues and, perhaps, rattle a few cages.
The Carnevale parade in Viareggio occurs on five days - one day each weekend for the four weeks preceding Lent and the final parade on Fat Tuesday. Viareggio is not far from Lucca (about 25 minutes by car and 40 by bus) so it was the perfect place to experience my first Carnevale celebration. And the fact that the parade route covers a 1.25-mile stretch along Viareggio’s famous seaside promenade was an added bonus.
The parade kicked off with an announcement of “Buon Carnevale,” a brass band complete with baton twirlers, and lots of excitement from the crowd.
What followed was a feast for the eyes - huge, colorful, animated paper mache creations that moved along the parade circuit accompanied by performers and often smoke, glitter, pyrotechnics, and music.
There was colorful confetti - lots of confetti - sold by the bagful to spectators who flung it all about. Not to worry - in the name of environmental awareness, this was a plastic-free event and all the confetti recyclable paper.
The floats, chosen based on sketches submitted in advance, expressed current parade themes (this year celebrated women) and relevant social issues. Below are three of the sketches that were chosen and became floats in this year’s parade. You can see the the Italians find the current U.S. president to be a good subject for politically themed entries.
This year’s entries addressed themes of bullying, environmental pollution, and migration, as well as Italian and American politics.
Other floats and performers represented the classical Carnevale theme of clowns and comedia dell’arte figures. In addition to the large floats, which take a small army of handlers to animate, there are many smaller “one-man” creations that join the parade.
Parade spectators are part of the show as many dress in colorful wigs, as clowns, or in other costumes. The celebration is family friendly and some of the best costumes are worn by the children or entire families. Spectators can sit in grandstands to watch the parade but many simply stand along the parade route and are free to join in the procession. The atmosphere is vivacious and noisy and crowded but also very safe. I loved every minute.
Having experienced my first Carnevale in Viareggio, I’m thinking that Venice might be just the spot for Carnevale 2020. Anyone want to join me? -post by JMB