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!

2014 Christmas Markets in Milan

With the holiday season almost here, the time has come to think about exchanging gifts with friends and family and maybe decorating your apartment or dorm room with some festive trimmings.

As a predominately Catholic country, Italy celebrates the several important holidays in December and early January. In Milan, the season official kicks off on 7 December, the Feast of St. Ambrose, the patron saint of the city. That’s immediately followed by a national holiday on 8 December, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Then of course Christmas is on the 25th, and the day after, St. Stephen’s Day, is also a holiday. Winter vacation usually ends right after 6 January, which celebrates the Epiphany.

So now that you know more about the calendar, you can understand why Christmas shopping usually revolves around 7-8 December: everyone has some extra time to think about presents and seasonal decorations! Milan may not be as famous for its Christmas markets as some other northern European cities, but the Milanese do enjoy taking part in some annual holiday shopping. Find out more below!

Crowds at holiday marketL’Artigiano in Fiera
This huge event has been hosted in Milan for almost 20 years – it seems to get bigger each year. With over 3,000 stands (!), you really need at least a full day –and a lot of stamina – to see everything. Your best bet is to make a game plan beforehand so you can hit the countries or Italian regions you’re most interested in. And don’t forget to come hungry: this market is also a great place to taste some good food from all over the world.
Open daily from 10am to 10:30pm through 8 December. Take the red line (MM1) to the Rho Fiera stop, but make sure you buy a €2.50 transport ticket since Rho is outside the city limits. Admission is free.

Fiera degli O’Bej O’Bej
This traditional market reportedly dates back to the 13th century. It’s held on and around the city’s saint’s day, 7 December, and lasts about one week. For the past few years, the market is located in Piazza Castello. Crafts and other items are on sale, as well as typical winter foods like chestnuts and sweets.
This year the market will be held from 5 to 8 December. Located at the Cairoli Castello stop on the subway (MM1).

Corsa dei Babbi Natale
On 13 December at 3:30pm, hundreds of people dressed up as Santa Claus will take the streets on a 5km run starting and ending in Piazza Castello. The registration fee is €15, and all participants will receive a Santa hat, bag, a race number and a few coupons from sponsors. The website is in Italian so you might need a native speaker to help you navigate the online registration.

Other Markets
Various other outdoor markets around the city will also start springing up during the weekend of December 7th, and should last until Christmas. Locations include Duomo, Paolo Sarpi, Piazza Gae Aulenti, Affori, Portello, Isola and others!