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Authentic Southern Italian Cuisine
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It’s Carnevale Time Again!

February 2, 2013 Carlino's Restaurant no comments
Carlinos Restaurant Carnevale
“Carnevale di Venezia is a day for masks, feasts and parties”

Do you know what’s special about February 12? It isn’t just another Tuesday; millions of Italians mark it as Carnevale, the last day of feasting and celebration before Lent. The French call it Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, but its roots are deep in Italian soil, particularly in Venice. The Venetian version of the holiday is one of the most spectacular and elegant affairs anywhere, and it’s recently enjoyed a resurgence.

The traditional Carnevale di Venezia is a day for masks, feasts and parties. What sets it apart is its age; as one of the first carnival celebrations in Europe, it’s a tradition almost a thousand years old. The first recorded Carnevale in Venice was celebrated in 1162 as a party to commemorate a victory on the battlefield that kept the region, then a republic, free. As people gathered in the Piazza San Marco, they brought their favorite delicacies and wore their brightest colors, turning the party into a memorable feast.

Eating well before Lent was a tradition even before the Venetian celebration, but the coincidental timing of the victory and the feast day transformed it into something special. Italians don’t need many reasons to celebrate with wonderful food, free-flowing wine and fancy clothes; having two great reasons to throw a party made Venice’s Carnevale an irresistible attraction.

As the party grew into an ever larger social event, the elegant clothes evolved into masks and costumes. Eventually, masks became a way to move beyond the bonds of social hierarchy, letting people from every walk of life celebrate the final day of feasting before the austerity of Lent. Mask-makers held high status; if painters were the rock stars of Renaissance Italy, then Venetian mask-makers were the back-up singers, earning invitations to all the best parties. Today, the masks Venetians and visitors wear are just for fun, although the crowning of the year’s most beautiful costumes has become an event for fashionistas worldwide.

Over the years, traditional mask styles became especially well known and are still visible on the streets of Venice during Carnevale. The traditional square bautta covers the whole face, while the delicate columbina hides only the eyes and is almost exclusively worn by women. Dama masks look like the serene face of a beautiful woman, and gato masks transform their wearers into cats. Other popular styles resemble traditional comedy and tragedy masks or jesters.

The food of carnevale is right in the name: meat, and plenty of it. The “carne” in Carnevale means meat, and for two weeks before Ash Wednesday, meat is a mainstay. Beefy meatballs, pork sausage and tender veal dishes are favorites for Carnevale. Anything creamy, rich or luscious also fits the celebratory theme, so cream-filled pastries and rum-soaked cakes have a place on the holiday table. Wine and spirits flow, keeping the party atmosphere lively well into the night.

However revelers call it – Carnevale, Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras – it ends sharply at midnight. For all its excesses, Carnevale has a solemn heart, marking as it does the last farewell to feasting and frolics before Lent.

You don’t need to observe Lent to enjoy the festivities, though. Make February 12 special with a feast of your own at Carlino’s. Why have just another Tuesday when you could have a party instead?

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