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Celebrating Carnival in Tuscany

The ending of winter ushers in longer days, sunnier weather and a glimpse of springtime. Celebrations this time of year entice us to come out of our winter hibernations and socialize. Carnival in Viareggio is the perfect opportunity to visit Tuscany and awaken a festive spirit.

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What is Carnival?

Carnival is the festival celebration that occurs right before the Catholic season of Lent. The six-week religious observance that concludes with Easter Sunday, Lent is often a time when Catholics will abstain from certain vices and avoid eating meat on Fridays. It is a way for those who believe Jesus lived in the desert for 40 days to also

Carnival in Tuscany

Viareggio is located seaside in the Lucca province of Italy, west of Florence. The promenade along the coastline is the ideal location for a parade, and the floats of Viareggio Carnival are world-famous. A week of float parade and fireworks and the final day judges award winners of large and small float categories, as well as a winner for a mask category. The images on the parade route resemble famous celebrities, political figures or sports figures in addition to international recognizable themes.

People of all ages come to the celebration to see the intricate float designs and participate. Each Sunday is a procession parade throughout the whole month of Carnival and the final parade on Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent is the culmination of the event. While some Carnivals around the world are more adult-only party environment, the Viareggio Carnival.

The Carnival of Viareggio tradition began in February of 1873 by a group of young rich socialites. A group of wealthy men wanted to have a parade of carriages covered in flowers that would travel through the old section of the city. The poor townspeople of the city found out about the extravagance and showed up protesting the parade wearing masks, as a way to show their discontent with a recent increase in taxes. Eventually, the parade became a chance for everyone to participate and the horse-drawn carriages evolved into paper-mache floats. The Cittadella del Carnevale is a hangar that houses all of the floats and masks. It is a museum dedicated to the spirit and history of Viareggio Carnival. It is perfect introduction to the history and evolution of the event.

Aside from the intricate parade floats, there are certain staples that are involved with Viareggio Carnival. The mascot of the carnival is Burlamacco. Making a yearly appearance since the 1930s, Burlamacco was created from the mind of a local artist Umberto Bonetti. The character is adorned in a red and white striped suit, with a clown-like face and bright red hat. Street food is also available on the main street and a staple at Carnival. Things like doughnuts, pastries, and cakes are sweet treats.

Getting to Viareggio

It is easy to reach Viareggio by train with direct lines from Florence, Pisa and La Spezia. Because streets are closed off to vehicle traffic and there is a set parade route that happens weekly, arriving by public transport is a hassle-free way to participate. This is a perfect opportunity to incorporate this yearly festival within a spring vacation to Tuscany.

Viareggio is a great destination for an Italian vacation destination outside of the Carnival parade. The city began as a port town and swiftly evolved to a seaside tourist destination. Aside from beach resorts, the Villa Paolina Civic Museum is located in town and is a world-renowned fine art space.

Famous Carnival Destinations

In addition to Viareggio, there are Carnival celebrations located all over the world. The other famous Italian celebration is in Venice. The Carnival of Venice is one of the masquerade balls, classical music concerts, and street performances.

Most famously is Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Louisiana. The US festival meaning “Fat Tuesday” in French is a way for the religious to revel in parties and festivities before Ash Wednesday arrives. Three times the population of New Orleans, roughly a million people come out for Mardi Gras, making it one of the largest parties in the world.

Mardi Gras isn’t the only popular North American celebration; up north in Canada there is Carnival, the Quebecoise version. While it is mid-winter, cold and snowy, it doesn’t stop partygoers from enjoying the outdoor events. There are ice sculptures, parades, dog sled races and events that create a true winter wonderland in Quebec City.

No other Carnival compares to the world’s most famous in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Each year over two million people flock to the South American city to take to the streets, following steel drum bands and parades of bedazzled feathered Samba costumes.

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