Before Halloween, there was Carnevale

It’s really only in the last few years that Italians have started celebrating Halloween. When they do, it’s generally by dressing up and going to a party. No one goes trick-or-treating here (though strangely there is an Italian expression for it – dolcetto o scherzetto – which I suspect was invented to translate American movies).

The vastly more popular dress-up holiday here is Carnevale, the umbrella title for the couple weeks before Lent when cities and towns throughout Italy put on smaller versions of the famous one in Venice, i.e. the grandest Carnival of them all, right up there with the ones in Rio and N'Orleans.

It’s mainly the children who dress up, though many adults join them. There’s some unwritten rule that babies dress as animals (tigers, bears, bees, lady bugs) and girls (surprise, surprise) dress as princesses. Boys seem to have a lot more creative lee-way with their costumes, though this year I saw an awful lot of Batmans. 

I’ll admit I hadn’t even thought about participating with Peanut until a friend of mine insisted I borrow the costumes her 15-month-old boy wore last year. And wow am I ever glad I did! Peanut was impossibly cute dressed up as a bear with his face painted.

We spent an afternoon at the Carnevale festival in Borgo San Lorenzo, a town about half an hour north of Florence in the heart of the gorgeous Mugello region. The town’s main square and surrounding streets were packed. A local dance school held performances in the centre while four or five floats and a marching band looped several times around the perimeter.

Some fun facts about Carnevale:

  • it started in Italy, with the earliest recorded instances dating back to the middle ages
  • it’s rooted in pagan, pre-Christian festivals
  • the name comes from either the Latin carne levare, meaning to eliminate meat, or carne vale, meaning farewell to meat or farewell to the flesh, in reference to the Lenten fast that follows it

I don’t know where this tradition of the kids dressing up comes from, though I assume it naturally evolved from the more well known practice of masquerading that we normally associate with Venice.

Anyway, it’s a super-fun thing to do with kids, what with all the dressing up, parading, confetti-throwing and multi-coloured-foam spraying. Peanut had a ball and so did we.