Celebrating “Fat Saturday” in Milano

Streamers in front of Palazzo della RagioneWhat is Carnevale?
The holiday of Carnevale is celebrated all over Italy (and in many historically Catholic countries), a few weeks before Easter Sunday. Lent starts right after Carnevale ends, which is a period of sacrifice, so the idea is to  have fun before starting a time of religious reflection.
These days, traditions are mostly geared towards children, who can wear costumes, get a few extra days off school and throw confetti and streamers.
University students can get in on the action by taking a day-trip, going to a club or discoteca in a cool or sexy costume, or just enjoying the holiday’s sweet treats.

Famous Carnevale locations
Italy’s most famous Carnevale celebration is held in Venice. You’ll see people with very elaborate costumes and beautiful masks in the main streets and Piazza San Marco. The city is packed, face painters and vendors selling souvenirs are everywhere. Visitors come from all over the world to experience Venice during this time of year.
Students in Milan can take a train to Venice, even just for the day! By leaving early in the morning and taking the last train back to Milan, you can get the full experience of wandering the city for a day, taking breaks for snacks and drinks along the way, without having to look for a hotel. The train takes about 2.5 hours, check the Trenitalia website for times and prices.
In Venice and other cities around the world, festivities culminate on Mardi Gras – Tuesday 17 February this year – which is the last day before Ash Wednesday.

Why is the date different in Milano?
The last day of Carnevale is on Tuesday all over the world, except in Milano.
That’s because a different liturgical rite, called the Ambrosian Rite – named after a fourth century bishop of Milan – is used here. The legend goes that Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, was out of town on a pilgrimage; when he announced he’d be back in time for Carnevale, the locals decided to wait to celebrate with him. So now the holiday lasts four days longer than any other Carnevale: until Saturday, called sabato grasso (Fat Saturday). So Lent starts on Sunday instead of Ash Wednesday.
This year, “Fat Saturday” will take place on Saturday 21 February.

Carnevale desserts in a shop windowEvents in Milan
There are tons of events scheduled for the days leading up to and on Fat Saturday, here are just a few:

  • Fabbrica del Vapore, Via Procaccini 4: 18-21 February. Music and dancing, digital art and street art. All to celebrate Carnevale.
  • Milano Clown Festival, Isola neighborhood: 18-21 February. Over 100 events featuring 70 performers at various locations in the Isola area. Check out their website for more info.
  • Tunnel Club, Via Sammartini: 21 February. Orient Express is the theme for the party that will be held on Carnevele.

Carnevale sweets
Baked or fried, filled with cream, fruit, chocolate or nothing, leavened or unleavened, covered in powdered sugar, chocolate or plain, there is a seemingly endless variety of Carnevale treats to choose from around Italy. Milan’s specialty are chiacchiere, which literally means chatting, because that what you’ll be doing while your eating this dessert.
You can find these sweets in any pasticceria in the city, and at the supermarket for a lower-cost treat.
Our advice to get into the spirit of Carnevale: why not organize a taste-testing party to find your favorite dessert? Or just try a new version every day!

Getting Ready for Carnival in Milano

Did you know that Carnival lasts longer in Milano?

A typical Catholic and Christian celebration, Carnival involves parades, parties, masquerading and sweet treats. Once a year, the world is turned upside down as a few days of follies and eccentricities precede the forty rigorous days of Lent that lead up to Easter. Everybody has heard of the Rio de Janeiro Carnival, of course. In Italy, Venice and Viareggio hold masquerades and parades just as beautiful (and there are many others, each one different, all over the country!). Around the world, festivities culminate on Mardi Gras, which is the last day before Ash Wednesday when Lent begins.

Locals celebrating Carnival at the DuomoAll over the world, except in Milano.

That’s because a slightly different liturgical rite, called the Ambrosian Rite – the Rito Ambrosiano named after a fourth century bishop of Milan – is followed here and in the surrounding areas. As the legend goes, Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, was away on a pilgrimage; when he announced he’d be back in time for Carnival, the people decided to wait to celebrate with him, so that now it lasts four days longer than any other Carnival – until Saturday, called appropriately sabato grasso (or Samedi Gras). Then, Lent starts on Sunday instead of Ash Wednesday.

As a consequence, Samedi Gras is the hottest day in Ambrosian Carnival, when the biggest events are held and confetti colors the whole city. Of course, the main events take place downtown all around Piazza del Duomo – all you’ve got to do is go in centro on Saturday afternoon to find yourself surrounded by masks, traveling entertainers, music and party noise!

This year, Samedi Gras will take place on Saturday 8 March, which also happens to be International Women’s Day.

So, to start off the festivities, here’s what to do. First of all, make sure you try out the most famous Carnival dessert, chiacchiere. Find out more about this delicious tradition.

And don’t forget, you’ll need a costume! Check out this information on Halloween costumes (all stores included in the article will be all decked out and supplied with Carnival costumes in the days leading up to the final day of celebrations).