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Everything You Need to Know About Carnevale, Venice’s Mardi Gras

02 February 2024
by Michele Becker
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From extravagant masks to decadent treats, this two-week celebration of indulgence is a sight to behold. 

Although February is the month when love is in the air and Valentine’s Day often takes center stage, there’s another winter celebration inspiring revelry in Italy: Carnevale di Venezia

As a celebration before the Catholic season of Lent begins, carnivals can be found in many parts of the world, but Italy’s version truly glitters. Venice hosts the country’s most famous festival, a centuries-old display of tradition and culture culminating in a grand costumed parade. Find a mask, grab a spritz, and read on to learn the best ways to celebrate like a Venetian!

What It Is

Similar to Mardi Gras here in the U.S., carnival is a time of celebration and indulgence before the period of Lent begins for practicing Catholics. Most carnival celebrations are two-week affairs that end on Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent begins. As Lent is a time to give up certain earthly pleasures, carnival is the “last hurrah”—a time to eat, drink, and be merry before the solemnity begins. Venice’s carnevale is especially illustrious and draws visitors from all over the world to experience the extravagant parties, clothing, and food in the Floating City.  


Two Venetians dressed up for Carnival

What to Do

Carnival is a time for maximum indulgence. During this two-week period, Venetians host a variety of parties around the city with elaborate dress codes and themes. While some parties are easily accessible, some are quite luxurious, and tickets can cost more than 1,000 euros per person! The most exclusive of these parties is the Doge’s Ball, a lavish, exclusive masquerade ball that is both a grand gala and artistic production. In addition to public and private parties, the city of Venice puts on a variety of shows, activities, and parades. Festa Veneziana kicks off carnevale with an aquatic parade of decorated gondolas, and different spectacles continue in St. Mark’s Square throughout the festival. Decorations and confetti are scattered throughout the city during these two weeks, as locals go about their days with a constant hum of excitement. 


Venetian Masks

What to Wear

While you’ll see some Italians dressed in full Renaissance-style costumes, it’s not required; the only thing you really need is a mask! Whether in a bauta, a full-face mask, or colombina, a half-mask that covers only the eyes, you’ll see Venetians and guests alike hiding their identity during the revelry. These masks became de rigeur in a time when the disparity between Venetian rich and poor was extremely pronounced, and carnival was the only occasion for locals to shed their identity to fully indulge in the festivities. In fact, rumor has it that in the Middle Ages, if you acted in accordance with your mask’s character, you couldn’t be arrested for any unsavory behavior! Today, these masks are truly works of art. With gorgeous patterns, colors, adornments, and some designs going back hundreds of years, you’ll find it difficult to choose your favorite! 



What to Eat

Like many holidays in Italy, one of the best ways to celebrate is with food. Many of the most beloved treats of Venetian carnevale are fried, like Chiacchiere, ribbons of fried dough that are coated in sugar, and donuts such as frittelle, which are traditionally stuffed with pine nuts (and sometimes custard) and castagnole, which are smaller and reminiscent of struffoli. While these treats are classic  carnival fare in Venice, you’ll likely find them all over Italy during this period.

Want to plan a trip to experience the extravagance yourself? Check out Giada’s guide to Venice! Or celebrate on your own and indulge in your favorite sweets, make chiacchiere, and don a mask of your own.


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