There is already a buzz in the air, an atmosphere of expectation and imminent fun, while groups get together and start work, schools agree on a theme and begin planning, and creative people let loose – and when I say loose, I am NOT kidding!! What am I talking about? Carnevale of course, better known as Mardi-Gras!
Every year this big, colorful and weird party takes over the country, filling streets and squares with joyous music (loudspeakers are set up everywhere), bustling processions of bands and schoolchildren, groups with floats, and just anyone who wants to join in the fun! And, needless to say, all of them rigorously in fancy dress costume. In our area, Carneval is taken very seriously, and the more addicted amongst us start planning their crazy creations from the beginning of the winter! Anyone who should just happen to be passing through Bedonia on the last, and culminating day of this madness (Shrove Tuesday), would think they had stepped into Alice in wonderland – or probably worse! What would they see?….well, first of all the whole town is on the streets, and it’s difficult to get from A to B for the crowds – this in itself is pretty unusual here unless it’s summer time. Then, right after lunch, they would see all the shoolchildren descending the slope which leads to the schools, dressed up to a specific theme, each class interpreting a different aspect, teachers also in costume, egging them all on to sing or chant as they parade along the main street. This year it’s going to be about “Carosello” – a tv program which was very popular in the old days, basically a container for some very entertaining adverts, which kids loved. It was generally accepted that, once Carosello was over at 20.30, all children were packed off to bed. In fact I’ve just had it from a little girl’s mouth, that she and her class of six year-olds will be parading in their pajamas with cushions and teddy bears, all ready for beddy-byes….so cute!!!
In order for all this to come about, mums and grandmas work busily together up at the primary school when lessons are over, and dads frequently get called in too, whenever any woodwork or structures are required. It is teamwork, with everyone chipping in and doing their bit, and the end result is always awesome.
Then the local band would go by, playing sambas and lively music in general, just in case anyone hadn’t already been caught up in the carnevale mood! They too dress up to a theme, be it as Scots in kilts, ancient Romans or bees, (with the bandmaster in the role of the flower!), giving it all they’ve got as they march along the main road of Bedonia, tooting their trumpets and banging on the big drum! And the amazed visitors would get swallowed up by storms of fairies and ballerinas (usually kiddies – but often men!!), and folk dressed up as anything – even lego, biscuits and snowflakes! The general hullaballoo carries on all afternoon, until dusk begins to fall; at this point, the bonfire, previously set up in the townhouse square, is lighted, and everyone dances around the fire and the dummy- witch placed on a pole in the middle, while music blares out all over town. People eat, drink and are merry, feasting on traditional fare such as torta fritta, apple fritters and vin brulé, which are sold along the streets.
I already mentioned in previous posts, that in Italy, religious beliefs often mingle with pagan customs, and the burning of the witch is yet another example of this (remember the “befana”?), latching onto the concept that it is time to burn the old and welcome the new – the witch is also seen as the bearer of bad fortune and evil. The party around the bonfire continues until only cinders and ashes remain, then for many, carnevale is over, whilst for others, the ball carries on in a pizzeria or a caffé until dawn!
On a historical note, the term “Carnevale” originates from the latin phrase “carnem levare” – literally, depriving oneself of meat, which referred to the last banquet which was traditionally held on Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras in French), before entering Lent. But in original catholic creed, the period which began after the Epiphany and led up to Shrove Tuesday was supposed to be one of reflection, a moment during which one would meditate and come spiritually closer to the religious aspects of life in view of the forthcoming Easter.
Although the true significance of this recurrance has got lost with the passing years, the fervent catholics amongst us still hang on firmly to the custom of giving up something dear to them during Lent. For some it may be sweets and desserts, for others it may be cigarettes, or something else again. And when Easter finally arrives, it’s a whole new beginning for everyone, religious or not.