Martedi Grasso – Cultural Note

Submitted by Charlene Pardo

Martedì Grasso

Let’s celebrate Martedì Grasso today! This year Lent begins on March 2, so the preceding weeks are filled with parties and costumed parades, culminating in the grand celebration of “Martedi Grasso” or Fat Tuesday. After today, mothers traditionally threw out any fats, like butter or cream, so they won’t be tempted to make rich cookies and cakes for the next 40 days.

Carnevale was first celebrated in Venice in 1094 and has been officially celebrated in that city since 1296, eventually spreading through out Christian Europe. Today in Venice actors, acrobats, musicians and everyday citizens wear elegant masks and costumes as they party through the Pre-Lenten season. Shops are filled with everything the Venetians need to dress in high style and join the party.

The Tuscan town of Viareggio is also known for its fabulous Carnevale celebrations. There are parades for the five weeks before Lent, starting with a three cannon salute into the sea, followed by firework displays and theatrical shows. The people of Viareggio decorate the most elaborate parade floats in Italy. They also wear paper mache masks that resemble local politicians and famous people, which makes for a very festive mood.

Another famous Carnevale celebration happens in the northern Piemonte town of Ivrea. The party begins with a traditional masked ball, but by the end of the week people are celebrating the raucous “Battaglia Delle Arance” or Battle of the Oranges. The townspeople throw thousands of pounds of oranges to re-enact a 12th century uprising against their leader. After the town has vented its frustrations in this public food fight, everybody calms down and has a traditional feast of codfish and polenta.

The word Carnevale means “farewell to meat”, a time to celebrate before the rigors of Lent begin. Carnevale is a time when Italians can take a break from their day to day lives and celebrate in costumed elegance. Many spend a fortune on their masks and wardrobes just to step back into history and enjoy great food, music, and entertainment. Carnevale is a chance to let off a little steam and celebrate life Italian style!

Submitted by Charlene Pardo