Life is a carnevale

Tuscany’s festivities reign supreme

Editorial Staff
February 9, 2006

There’s no need to take a trip to Venice to experience Italian Carnival at its best. Some of the most interesting events are taking place right here in Tuscany, including traditional fairs, political satire, multicultural parades and events for children.


Carnival is an important Catholic festivity that is celebrated during the two weeks before the traditional Christian Fast of Lent begins. Carnival season usually begins on the third from the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday, though in some places it starts as early as Epiphany, continuing until Lent. One of the many theories about the meaning of Carnival is that it was originally a time to finish meat and butter stocks and indulge before Lent arrived.


Today, the festivities still flourish, often overshadowing their religious origins. The first sign that the celebrations have begun is the slew of children roaming the streets dressed in costumes and tossing confetti about, with naughtier kids spraying shaving cream. Unlike Halloween in America, which lasts only one day, children in Italy show off their outfits for an entire month. Though a few neighbourhood activities are always organised for children, the main attractions are the numerous parades held in most towns each weekend throughout Carnival.


The best-known Carnival event in Tuscany is held at the seaside town of Viareggio. The Carnevale di Viareggio is most famous for the huge floats (some weighing more than 40 tons) created each year by artists and craftsmen that appear in the town’s parades. In addition to the floats, the parades feature musical performances, entertainers and TV personalities. The most anticipated floats are those depicting hilarious scenes of political satire. For example, a float titled “Hunting Season Begins” depicting Prime Minister Berlusconi as a bird of prey hovering over small, armed hunters, will make its debut this year.


According to the festival’s Web site, “The 2006 Viareggio Carnival is a celebration in the name of peace, love and solidarity.” Organisers consider the event an important part of Italian heritage, culture and tourism. In fact, 1.5 million people attended last year’s Carnival and the event earned more than 4 million euros.


The region’s capital has its own agenda for Carnival, as well. For the third consecutive year, Florence will celebrate under the banner “Carnevale Fiorentino nel Mondo” (Florentine Carnival around the World), a multicultural festival honouring the changing demographics of the city. On Sunday, Feb. 26, a parade through the historical centre will exhibit traditional music and clothing from Brazil, Mexico, the Ivory Coast, China, Peru, Bangladesh and other nations.


Tuscany also boasts the oldest Carnival celebration recorded in Italy. According to documents that date back more than 400 years, the Tuscan town of Foiano della Chiana, near Arezzo began celebrating in 1539, and the town’s parades and festivities continue to this day.


The celebrations end on Martedì Grasso (“Fat Tuesday,” or Shrove Tuesday), the day before Ash Wednesday, when the rigours of Lent’s 40 days of fasting and sacrifice begin.


For more information on exact event times and locations go to the events section, pgs. 9-13.


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