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Carnival, in Italy, is the period of the year that anticipates Lent, and it lasts until February or March, according to Easter date. Its name comes from the latin expression  carnem levare, which means “take out the meat”, because in Lent it was forbidden to eat meat. The most important days of Carnival are the Thursday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, which are called “fat Thursday and fat Tuesday”.

Masks, confetti and streamers are the most typical symbols of Carnival 

Carnival is especially loved by children and it is celebrated with balls, masquerades and parade floats. It is the time of jokes and feasts, dressing up and laughs, which precedes the more sober and serious Lent. The typical Italian masks are linked to the characters of Commedia dell’Arte, like Arlecchino, Colombina, Pantalone e Pulcinella. Other very common costumes are superheroes for boys and princesses for girls, as well as witches or cowboys, clowns and fairies, devils and dancers. 

Children have fun throwing confetti, blowing streamers and playing toy trumpets: nobody gets upset, as “during Carnival every joke is permitted” (in Italian the saying is “a Carnevale ogni scherzo vale!”).               

Of course during such a festivity you cannot avoid sweets: in Veneto (a region in North-Eastern Italy), for instance, you can find frittelle, fried pastries filled with custard, raisins or zabaione (a type of custard containing liquor) and galani – that have also other names, such as crostoli, chiacchiere (“chats”) or bugie (“lies”) –, which are fried crisp pastries covered with powdered sugar. 

In Venice during this period you can admire Venetian masked nobles walking in San Marco Square, whereas in Viareggio one of the biggest carnival float parades of the country takes place.

Here is a poem about Carnival written by the poet Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863-1938):

Old and crazy Carnival

Old and crazy Carnival

Decided to sell his mat

To buy bread and wine,

Salty snacks and pork pie[1].

He himself stuffed

With lots of sweets[2]:

Now his belly is huge

And resembles a balloon.

He drinks and drinks, until

His face gets red:

his stomach explodes 

While he’s still eating restlessly.  

Thus Carnival dies,

And his funeral takes place:

From dust he was born

And to dust he returned. 

Tags:  festivity; traditions; masks; dressing-up; sweets. 

Question: Which is the most typical Italian mask among the following ones?

  1. The witch
  2. The clown
  3. Arlecchino

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