Confetti, jokes, grimaces, and fireworks… mardi gras has an irresistible charm at any age! Only at Mardi Gras does one have the occasion to be someone else and everything seems possible … wild dancing and side splitting laughs, during a celebration full of joy, life, and fun.
It is said that the Italian word “carnevale” comes from the Latin “carnem levare,” an expression in the Middle Ages that was used to indicate the ecclesiastical rule to abstain from meat during the period leading up to Lent. During the Mardi Gras, the people bid farewell to the previous year celebrating it with plenty of food, drink and excess fun that culminated with the burning of a puppet, a scapegoat for the evils of the past. The exaltation of fruitfulness and the coincidence with the beginning of the agricultural year goes back ages. It is related to pagan rituals such as the celebrations in honor of the greek god Dionysus (the god of wine) and religious ceremonies in honor of the Roman Saturn, both characterized by wild and orgiastic celebrations, during which social order was even exceptionally reversed such as the relationship between servant and master.
Letting go, breaking the schemes and the irresistible urge to acquire new identities represents the essence of Mardi Gras, whose celebratory spirit is fully realized in Viareggio. This seaside town is the main center of the Versilia coast, an area north of famous Tuscany for its natural beauty such as the imposing Apuan Alps, but equally well known for worldly get togethers of the international jet-set during the summer. The idea to decorate carriages to celebrate Mardi Gras was from some elite Viareggio boys in 1873 and since then the magnificent and spectacular parades of floats makes Mardi Gras in this city amongst the 10 most famous in the world.
Two insights have turned a game between boys into a world event: automation and paper mache. Sculptors and workers put their creativity and skill to the test using papier mache, a flexible and lightweight material that allows for the creation of increasingly sophisticated colossal animated creations, and therefore a new profession was born, the “Master float maker.” Music, masks and typically Tuscan pungent irony did the rest, attracting more and more visitors from all over the world to admire this extraordinary spectacle.
The parade of animated floats remains the most recognizable aspect of the Viareggio Mardi Gras, and the festivities involve a constellation of events involving all citizens and from the creation of masks, to plays, from the composition of Mardi Gras music, local parties that every Viareggian waits for each year. Participate in the Historic Mardi Gras or the feast of the district of Marco Polo or the even more famous Carneval Darsena, which is a real experience not only to understand and immerse yourself in the spirit of Mardi Gras, but also to live it and feel it just as they do in Viareggio. The local feasts involves all the people from the district, who work tirelessly to set up outdoor kitchens and eateries where you can taste delicious fresh fish dishes and warm up with a glass of wine or ponche. Of course dancing and parading in the street last until midnight and when the party ends the festivities continue in famous Versilia bars open in winter until late at night. You can an elaborate mask or a simple but witty disguise, because in Viareggio, there is room for anyone interpreting the spirit of the Mardi Gras in fact, the more the mask is either handmade and/or ironic, the more it will be appreciated by the true Viareggians.
Irony and mockery is an essential component of Viareggio’s Mardi Gras, and not surprisingly, the futurist painter Uberto Bonetti created the Burlamacco Representative as his mask, which has the Italian word “burla” (joke) in its name and is decorated in red and white, typical beach umbrella colors, that in the 1930s dotted the beaches of Versilia. Mardi Gras can be an opportunity to visit nearby Lucca and Pisa, and their extraordinary artistic heritage, or to have fun in the well-known nightclubs of Forte dei Marmi after a delicious dinner at a fine restaurant.
Enjoying Mardi Gras and Versilia at this time of year is a revelation for all and maybe you will come home a little more disheveled, and tired but certainly smiling more with catchy songs, that ring in your ears for a long, long time …