Carnival is a feast period which comes just before the sober forty days of Easter Lent. The Carnival period varies every year according to when Easter is celebrated and every country establishes the precise Carnival feast dates. In Italy it is normally celebrated during the two weeks before Ash Wednesday and end on Shrove Tuesday. It is believed that the word Carnival comes from the medieval use called “carnem levare” of renouncing to meat during Lent meals.
Carnival celebrations have very ancient origins which date back to pagan feasts thought to defeat evil souls. People used to wear masks and costumes to feel safer and to scare away the dead spirits. With the passing of time these rituals lost the magical nature and became a popular amusing celebration. During Middle Ages and Renaissance, Carnival spread through European courts and, with the add of theatre, dance and music components, got more refined and sophisticated. Nowadays Carnival represents an occasion to party and it is common to dress up and go to parades and parties during Carnival.
It is a traditional feast everywhere in Veneto region, but above all in Venice where it is considered as one of the most ancient and fascinating celebrations of the city. The exact date in which masks where first worn in Venice is unknown, but already during the 18th Century dressing up balls and games with participants wanting to be anonymous were so important and fashionable to be considered an essential part of Venetian life and habits. During Carnival nowadays, just like it once was, the principal streets and squares in Venice like Piazza San Marco are crowded with dressed up people dancing, singing and playing tricks on people and on Canal Grande the best masks of the city are seen on the gondolas and among the fog.