Sunday, March 6, 2011

Crazy Carnivals

It's Carnival time in Europe!  I've said it before, but they really know how to celebrate over there, what with St. Nicholas Day, the Epiphany, Boxing Day, and Carnival all part of their rich and diverse annual cycle of holidays.  Also known as Carnivale, Carnaval, or Fasching, traditionally Carnival is the time to indulge before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, a time for fasting and abstinence.

In some countries the official start of the festival season is 11/11 at 11:11 a.m. every year.  (This coming November, 2011, ought to be really big!)  In other regions the parties don't really get serious until closer to Ash Wednesday, like Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

Carnival is said to have originated in medieval Italy, and Venice in particular has a long history of parades, fireworks, and masquerading.  Beautifully embellished masks have, in fact, become a popular souvenir from Venice.  (Ugly, scary masks and costumes, too):

Costumes and masks are for sale all year long in Venice!

From Italy, Carnival then spread to other Catholic regions such as Spain, Portugal, France, and Germany.  Today, Carnival season is a huge tourist attraction in many countries.  If you're lucky enough to find yourself in Europe this time of year, click here for a link to an extensive list of Carnival events all over the Continent.

A particular few I read about really caught my eye:

Nice - Carnival in Nice, France, can be traced back to 1294 and nowadays attracts more than a million visitors annually during the two weeks before Lent.

Ivrea - this city in the Piedmont region of Italy recreates a war scene from the Middle Ages every Carnival season called the Battle of the Oranges, where citizens pelt one another on foot, horseback, and carriages with oranges and other citrus fruits.  This one gets my vote for the best Carnival entertainment for the whole family.

Nadur - Nadur is a small town on the island of Gozo, a Maltese island in the Mediterranean.  You may not want to attend their Carnival celebrations with children, since their party theme seems to be a bit more off-color.  The most common street costumes includes cross-dressers and scarcely clad political figures and clergy folk.

Tyrnavos - And I would say you definitely don't want to take your children of any age to Tyrnavos, in the Thessaly region of Greece, where Lent incites the locals to hold their annual Phallus Festival.  This gaudy spectacle includes music, dancing, food and drink, and, you guessed it, parades of enormous wooden and paper-maché phalluses (and yes, I learned today that an alternate acceptable plural is phalli).  What the female partiers there do after several shots of tsipouro (Greek grappa) and ouzo is probably not something you want to have to explain to your kids!

1 comment:

  1. I agree, they really do know how to celebrate. I recently went to a village carnival parade and couldn't believe the turn out and festivities for a Sunday afternoon, and this was very small scale compared to what happens in cities.


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