What You Need to Know
In the lead up to Easter in the UK the most exciting day is Shrove Tuesday – because people make pancakes. In Venice however the historical festival stretches over months and brings back some old and beloved traditions to its townspeople and all those who visit. The festival is a celebration that has many different events tied into it as well as many practices, which may seem a little odd to outsiders. It’s a strange yet exciting time with much mystery surrounding some of the rituals which continue today, before you jump into the party scene you may want to know this before going in.
The Festival Is A Celebration of History
Before the year 1200 the Carnival was an annual event with many believing it to have sprung to life after a victory over a patriarchy causing people to gather in San Marco Square in celebration. Despite its exact origin the amount of participants grew each year until it became a well-known gathering for thousands. At the heart of the celebration lie some fantastically forward thinking ideas, such as the masks which many people began wearing. The anonymity that arose from fully and partially masked faces and elaborate costume and hoods meant that the incredibly divisive class barriers that were apparent at the time were erased during the carnival. Though the actual events such as exclusive parties and masquerade balls were organised by the wealthy, the fact that everyone’s identity was hidden meant that the poor could mingle with the rich at a time when neither would usually get the opportunity to otherwise. The celebrations in the streets and behind closed doors encouraged people to seek great enjoyment and pleasure, and whether that included gorging on food or getting involved in more debauched acts, the anonymity provided by the masks meant that there would be little consequence come the next morning.
The freedom the masks gave the festival goers didn’t just last a few nights, in fact during the season of the carnival (which got progressively longer) citizens of Venice would go about their day to day business with their identity (and the implications of their class) unknown. This idea of breaking social barriers and allowing anyone to live ‘off the grid’, so to speak, is one that is still revolutionary today especially since modern technology seems to be leading the march in the opposite direction.
With so much liberty and a good helping off excessive behaviour occurring at the carnival, onlookers saw it in an extremely negative light. As a result in 1797 the festival was banned by the House of Lorraine under the Holy Roman Empire. The wearing of masks was also outlawed and all associated activity of the groundbreaking festival was wiped away. With its essence kept alive by artists underground it wasn’t until 1979 that the festival returned properly. Today the celebration attended by millions is in essence a dedication to the festival of old, costumes, masks and of course parties are now back in full force accompanied by modern additions.