Celebrating Carnevale in Venice: Masks, Debauchery, Food, and More

The beautiful Basilica San Marco in Venice.It’s a special time of year in Venice. For the two weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday, residents and tourists alike take to the streets wearing masks and elaborate costumes to celebrate Carnival. Or, as the Italians say, “Carnevale.” The word comes from Latin, meaning “farewell to meat,” and the celebration does just that — and more — as everyone celebrates by indulging in everything they’re supposed to give up for the 40 days of Lent.

See one of our favorite Lenten recipes for Roman Baccalà e Puntarelle (Salt Cod and Chicory).

A Venetian in costume for Carnevale on a culinary tour of ItalyWhile Carnevale is celebrated throughout Italy, and in other forms — such as Mardi Gras — around the world, Venice’s celebration is by far one of the most popular in the world. The Venetian Carnevale dates back to 1162, and even then, masks were a popular fixture in the celebration. Then again, masks were worn frequently during select months of the year by Venetians, particularly by people who wished to remain anonymous while visiting “houses of ill repute.” But masks also allowed everyone to be on equal footing; whether you were a nobleman or a servant, you could partake in the fabulous festivities while wearing a decorative mask and a costume.

A culinary tour of VeniceSee our tours to Venice and the Veneto region.

The same holds true today. While there are some expensive masquerade balls at hotels throughout Venice, there are also free events, such as gondola and boat parades on the water, concerts, and street performances by clowns, magicians, acrobats, and puppeteers, which everyone can witness. And at all these events, everyone will be wearing a mask.

Carnevale Food Traditions

But the masks aren’t the only tradition during Venice’s Carnevale. Food too has a role to play. Not only do Venetians eat plenty of meat and pastas, such as lasagna, but they also splurge on pastry-cream fritters (fritelle) and fried pastries like galani, among others.

Try our recipe for a traditional Italian Mardi Gras treat: frappe.

Venice’s Carnevale is currently coming to a close this year, as it ends on March 4, otherwise known as Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday in France and the U.S. But it’s never too early to consider a trip to Venice, the City of Bridges, for next year’s big bash. You can even learn how to cook traditional Carnival dishes through our Venice Cooking Odyssey cooking vacation or Venice day classes.

Read about the islands of Venice.

By Liz Hall

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