February in Italy most likely means Carnival.
Depending on when Easter falls on each year, Carnival takes place somewhere between the first days of February and the beginning of March. Therefore, February is always a whirlwind of events and celebrations – most everywhere in Italy. Carnival is mainly a feast for kids, but lots of grown-ups love it as well.
Since Carnival is so popular around here, I decided to write a blog post about it listing all the most useful Italian words and phrases you may need to use when talking about the subject. If you are interested in Carnival, you can check a couple of posts I wrote last year: one was about the topic in general, focusing on the different feasts around Italy, and the other one was actually the recipe of the most popular sweet we eat at Carnival: chiacchiere.
Well, let’s dive into Carnival now!
As I said, the time when Carnival falls depends on Easter. Carnival, or better Carnevale, begins nine weeks before Easter and lasts until the beginning of Quaresima (Lent), the forty-day period that precedes Easter. The period of Carnival lasts more than a month, but actually the peak of the celebrations take place on the last week before the beginning of Lent.
Such period of celebrations reaches its climax on giovedì grasso (Fat Thursday), the last Thursday before Lent and goes on that weekend until martedì grasso (Fat Tuesday), the last day of Carnival. The first day of Lent is known as mercoledì delle ceneri (Ash Wednesday), which takes its name from the fact that priests pour some ashes on the front of the worshippers to prepare them to the penance of Lent.
But before the mercoledì delle ceneri, there’s so much going on!
The most common way to celebrate Carnevale is to go to a festa di Carnevale (Carnival party). Such a party is usually una festa per bambini (a kids’ party) and kids always wear maschere (masks) or un costume di Carnevale (a Carnival costume) to attend such events. This parties can be held a scuola (at school) or a casa (at home) and kids have a lot of fun playing and throwing coriandoli (confetti) and stelle filanti (streamers) at each other. They also use trombette (party horns) to make a lot of noise.
Something that is very common at Carnevale is farsi gli scherzi (to play pranks). As a matter of fact, we also have a saying which goes: “A Carnevale ogni scherzo vale” (Anything goes at Carnival).
Another way of celebrating Carnevale is going to a sfilata di Carnevale (Carnival parade). In such events, which take place in more or less every Italian town, there are a lot of carri di Carnevale (Carnival floats), each one with its own specific theme and people dressed accordingly. If the parade is mainly for kids, the themes usually have something to do with favole (fairy tales) and cartoni animati (cartoons), while if they are for adults as well, floats may take its inspiration from political and contemporary events too.
The most famous Carnival parades in Italy take place in Viareggio, Tuscany, and in Cento, Emilia-Romagna. But there are also other kinds of Carnivals, around Italy. Very famous is the one in Venice, which is quite different from the standard Carnival parades with floats. In Venice, people wear maschere ottocentesche (1800s masks) or costumi eleganti (elegant costumes), with very elaborate decorations. Moreover, all around Italy there are very traditional celebrations which have their roots in the past.
When kids choose their costumes for Carnival parties, they usually want cartoon characters or very iconic characters like the princess, the witch, and so on. Actually, in Italy there are some maschere storiche (historical masks), which have a very old tradition. The most important Italian masks are: Pulcinella, who comes from Naples and is probably the most famous Italian mask, representing a lazy and sneaky servant, Arlecchino, who is from Bergamo and is always depicted as a fun guy who likes to play pranks, Colombina, a servant who is Arlecchino’s fiancé and Pantalone, who is from Venice and represents a busy businessman who has no success with women. Such masks have their own peculiar costumes and are the main characters of many theater plays.
Then there’s food. It’s impossible not to have a tradition or a celebration without some kind of food linked to it, here in Italy. You know that too well, right? Well, the most traditional food for Carnevale is some kind of deep fried pastries which are made with the same ingredients (flour, eggs, and sugar) but take different names depending on the area where they are prepared. Some of their names are: chiacchiere (Sicilia, Piemonte, Lombardia, Campania); bugie (Liguria), lattughe (Brescia), ciarline (Emilia), ‘ncartellate (Calabria), fiocchetti (Romagna), cenci (Toscana), frappe (Lazio), galani (Veneto), sfrappole (Bologna), frijoli (Sassari), fatti-fritti (Oristano), crostoli (Friuli-Venezia Giulia).
I hope you’ll find these post useful. If you like this kind of vocabulary posts, I have written one about Christmas and another one about the tradition of aperitivo. If you have specific requests of topics and themes, just leave a comment here below or send me an email at cinzia@instantlyitaly.
I have prepared a pdf file with all the words and phrases we learned in this post. You can find it in Your Italian Toolbox, a section of Instantly Italy where you’ll find Italian learning materials. You can get access to it by subscribing here.
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