"A Carnevale ogni Scherzo Vale"

Anything goes during the Carnival Time


"Carnevale" is a Roman Catholic celebration. In Milan it is a public celebration involving children in costumes and parades combining some elements of a circus with music, public street entertainment, masquerade balls, and revelry. The Carnival Season is a two week period before the traditional Christian fasting of Lent. One of the most famous "Carnevale" in Italy is the Venetian one, where great efforts are made to wear the most elaborate and elegant costumes. Nowadays children pelt each other with coriandoli (colored paper confetti), or spray silly string, or worse yet toss stale eggs or spray shaving cream. So beware while walking around the town, (and don’t wear your fur coat) you just might come home looking a bit of a mess !

The origin of the name "Carnevale" is unclear. The most common theory is that the name comes from the Italian carne or carnovale, from Latin carnem (meat) + levare (lighten or raise), literally "to remove the meat" or "stop eating meat". It has also been claimed that it comes from the Latin words caro (meat) and vale (farewell), hence "farewell to meat" or "farewell to the flesh", letting go of the earthly or bodily self. In any case, Carnival in Milan is special. We have four more days to celebrate that the rest of the world! Well, thanks to Saint Ambrose, the patron saint of Milan, the city was granted these extra days because he was on a religious trip and couldn’t come back to Milan in time to celebrate with the city, so the Pope granted Milan these extras days. Now instead of ending the festivities on Shrove Tuesday o Mardis Gras (Fat Tuesday), we end it on Shrove Saturday or Sabato grasso! (Fat Saturday).

Meneghino mask Milano

The typical Milanese mask or “maschera” is a character called Meneghino. Each city, in fact has its own special character. You have probably heard about Arlecchino (Harlequin) typical mask from Bergamo, or Pulcinella from Naples, or Pantalone from Venice. The origin of the name Meneghino is not certain but some say it come from the “Domenighini”, the servants employed to accompany the faithful to Sunday services. Meneghino’s costume consists of a three cornered hat, short green pants, stripped stockings, black shoes with buckles, a white shirt with black buttons, a colorful flowered vest, and a long jacket. He also carries an umbrella. I wonder if there is some connection between this character and the amount of rain in Milan during this season? So be prepared and carry one too!

Chiacchiere Pastry for Carnival

What is a holiday season without their special sweets? Well, during "Carnevale" season several types of pastries are made, but the most famous in Milan are the “Chiacchiere”. Depending on where in Italy you are, the name of these little scalloped ribbon-like, fried or oven baked delicacies covered with powdered sugar, changes from “Chiacchiere” to “Crostoli” to “Bugie” to “Cenci” but they are basically all the same.

You can even make them yourselves if you like, just follow the Chiacchiere recipe here.

Chiacchiere are festive, light and sweet, you can find them in the local “panificio” or bakery, in the traditional version or covered in dark chocolate, or colored pink or green, according to the whim of the baker himself. No matter what the name is, these are a fantastic, once a year, treat.

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