Many of you have probably heard of Venice’s famous Carnevale, with it’s elaborate masks and costumes. But did you know that Carnevale is actually a country-wide event in Italy?
While Venice is mostly put on for tourists, most Carnevale celebrations are purely local. Every year in the weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday Italians celebrate with parades, floats, costumes and bougies- fried pizza dough covered in powdered sugar. The idea is to have as much fun and merriment as possible before the doldrums of Lent settle in and everyone has to act pious until Easter.
(The bougies were a nice surprise to me. My Nonna used to make them as Christmas cookies for years, but I never knew their association with Carnevale until I saw them popping up all over the place last February.)
Some celebrations are huge, like the one in Venice, or the massive one in Via Reggio. Others are small and local. The Bologna one is aimed squarely at small children and is very local and relaxed.
Last year carnevale took us by surprise. We accidentally stumbled on Bologna’s parade, and then, in a very happy accident we ended up in the center of Valleta’s Carnevale during our trip to Malta. It was so much fun and Marcella loved the big flashy floats and thumping music.
This year we were a little more purposeful. We attended two Carnevale celebrations this past weekend, in Verona and in Bologna.
Our blogging friends Matt and Anna recently moved to Verona, and got a stunning apartment right next to the arena. This is good news for me because I adore Verona! We took the train an hour north to visit them and to attend Verona’s Carnevale.
Verona’s Carnevale is one of the oldest in the world. The 2019 celebration was it’s 498th year! It centers around one of Italy’s most iconic pasta dishes: gnocchi. Locals go to the Piazza San Zeno to eat bowls of gnocchi. There are two options: tomato sauce, and horse ragu. Yes, horse. It’s a Veronese specialty and it’s actually pretty tasty!
The King of the Carnevale is Pappa Gnocchi. We unfortunately missed seeing him in the flesh, but here’s his statue doppelganger.
There’s a parade with floats, and general merriment in the streets. Teenagers throw flour and eggs (gnocchi ingredients) at each other, and it’s all very messy and strange.
We had a great time checking out the carnevale in Verona, although Marcella was not a fan of the weird scary floats and loud music (me either girl).
For such a big city Bologna’s Carnevale is actually extremely chill. It’s aimed squarely at small children. This is great for us, as proud owners of a small child.
On Fat Tuesday and the Sunday before, there are parades in the city center. The floats are pretty amateur but cute, and feature kids from neighboring schools and towns. The pour buckets of confetti down on the crowds. This was much more Marcella’s speed, and she had a ball.
The kids all come out in costume-all types of costumes. I saw dozens of superheroes, princesses, animals, even a Doc McStuffins. It’s honestly a bigger event than Halloween here.
Then everyone proceeds to the Piazza Maggiore and the kids all run around and play in the snow like confetti. This was definitely the best part and Marcella had the time of her life running around with her friends.
By the end everything and everyone was coated in confetti.
Amazingly all that paper is gone by the next morning thanks to very efficient leaf blowers and street sweepers.
It’s such a fun time of year, especially for kids, and such a unique and special part of living in Italy that most visitors never experience. Next year I’m thinking maybe we will even give Venice a try!