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!

New Year’s Eve Traditions in Italy

If you’re in the bel paese for New Year’s Eve this year, there are a few things you should know about how the locals celebrate this very international holiday. In addition to various culinary traditions, there are a few other superstitions and traditions, most of which are believed will help your fate for the year to come. Why not try some out for size, because, as they say, when in Rome…

Most traditions come with the promise that a certain behavior will bring good luck throughout the year to believers. Many Italian families eat lentils on the 1st of the year, and other common foods include grapes and pomegranates. Originally a Spanish tradition, the tradition of eating 12 grapes when midnight strikes to bring good luck for the upcoming year is beginning to take hold in Italy too. The pomegranate is a symbol of loyalty and fertility (the latter of which may or may not be what you’re looking for!) and couples should feast on this ancient fruit together to symbolize their faithfulness to each other and prosperity.

The fruit’s red color might be why there is a very popular and widely-followed tradition of wearing red undergarments during New Year’s Eve celebrations. It’s supposed to bring good look for the new year, especially in the love portion of your life and the custom can also be tied to fertility. Another part of this tradition is to throw away the lingerie the day after they’ve been worn to seal the deal. If you’ve seen any underwear stores around Milano lately you’ll notice that they start featuring a lot of red in their shop windows starting in December, so it’s pretty easy to find something for your celebration!

FireworksSingletons may want to follow the tradition (probably originating in Scandinavia) of kissing a love interest under the mistletoe to start off the New Year at midnight. It’s good luck for both kissers!

This one goes along with the belief that many people share that what you do on new year’s day is a harbinger of how you will spend the rest of the year – so make sure you use your time wisely.

An older new year’s tradition in Italy is to throw out old and broken things (like plates and such), tossing them out the window! For safety reasons, however, this one is slowly fading away.

And don’t forget to start the new year right by making sure you have some money in your pockets when you leave the house on new year’s day. This will make sure luck is on your side, financially-speaking.

Another common tradition all over the world is setting off fireworks, either publicly or privately. Though now popular for the show in general, the loud booms were originally meant to fend off evil spirits!

If you happen to turn on the TV on New Year’s Eve, programs will generally count down to midnight, with dance and musical traditions from Rio de Janeiro reigning for the audiences watching.

Now that you know something about popular traditions for Capodanno in Italy, the only thing left to do is decide where you will be when the clock strikes midnight and 2015 begins! Buon anno!