The word carnival derives from the Latin “carnem levare” that is “to eliminate the meat”. After the carnival, in fact, Lent begins, a period of fasting and abstinence from meat.
It has ancient origins that have their roots in Etruscan and Roman rites, when the return of fertility and the transition from winter to spring were celebrated. In Rome in February the Saturnalia were celebrated, the days of celebration dedicated to the god Saturn, the god of abundance and happiness. On this occasion the slaves also participated in the celebrations masquerading as nobles.
But why do we wear costumes and masks at carnival?
According to Apuleius, the disguise dates back to a festival in honor of the Egyptian goddess Isis, during which numerous masked people were present. Also in the East in Babylon large chariots paraded through the streets that symbolized the creation of the world. In the Middle Ages the spirit of the party became that of overturning reality, for example the village idiot could wear a crown on this day.
Italy has a truly ancient tradition related to masks. Around 1600 the Commedia dell’arte was established, a theatrical show that saw the actors wearing masks and costumes to play characters. This is how the most famous Italian masks were born: Arlecchino, Balanzone, Pulcinella, Colombina and Pantalone.
In Italy one of the most famous carnivals is that of Venice.
In the historic center, spectacular shows are offered such as the party on the water in Rio de Cannaregio, the Flight of the angel from the bell tower of San Marco, the flight of the eagle in Piazza San Marco. Jugglers, trampolists, street artists animate the streets and finally there is the awarding of the most beautiful mask. There is no shortage of numerous private masked parties in luxurious buildings.
Other carnival events are held in Viareggio and Acireale where suggestive allegorical floats parade and in Ivrea where there is the famous Battle of the Oranges.