Wearing a mask to hide your identity is not a bad idea after all. It must be something everyone has always wanted to do at least for a moment. Actually, when we are invited to a fancy dress party we love the idea of being Luke Skywalker or Madonna for a few hours. There is something fascinating about the idea of putting ourselves in someone’s shoes, or even better, the idea of not being ourselves for a short period of time.
Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could remain anonymous? That might be what Italians thought many centuries ago so they came up with the idea of wearing masks. Well, it wasn’t as simple as that but that was pretty much what happened.
The Venice Carnival has its origins in the 1200’s and became an official event by 1296 when the Senate of the republic declared the day before Lent a public holiday. Like many others, this festivity hasn’t always been a time for party; it was originally a religious celebration.
The origin of the word “carnival” is not completely clear but it is thought that it might come from the Latin “carne vale” which means “farewell to meat”. Because during the Christian Lent eating meat, sugar or rich food was forbidden, Venetians made the most of the pre-Lent period. The idea was to gather the whole community together to drink, eat and party excessively before Lent arrived.
As it was a time of chaos and lack of control, masks were a useful “accessory” to wear and preserve one’s identity. Masks were already worn in many occasions but they became more and more popular during Carnival.There was actually a time when masks could be worn mostly all year round. They were traditionally allowed between St Stephen’s Day (26th December) and the start of the Carnival season, as well as during Ascension, and from 5th October to Christmas.
At some stage, they even became a formal requirement to be able to take part in certain political discussions in order to preserve personal identity, allowing the participants to act according to their own free will when deliberating. However, bad use and abuse of masks led to some restrictions later.
Masks were used in the past so that no distinction could be made between the nobility and the common people and so everybody could join in in the fun. They hid any form of identity between social classes. But masks also hid identity of those committing crimes and offences. That is the reason why the use of masks was restricted to day time only. In addition, carrying weapons when being behind a mask was forbidden as well, which gives an idea of what living in Venice was like back then.
f you were lucky enough to be in Venice last weekend, you probably enjoy edwhat is considered to be one of the most beautiful carnivals around the world. The weekend’s highlights were the gondola and boat parades along the Grand Canal as well as the mask parades celebrated in St. Mark’s Square. A high spot to watch these parades from can be very hard to find, but if you managed to find one, the colorful view was amazing for sure! At midnight on Fat Tuesday, to conclude the carnival, there is a fireworks show in St. Mark’s Basin, which you can’t miss!
If carnival is what you’re looking for and Río deJaneiro seems too far, go back to the roots of the festivity and let yourself be impressed by Venice at it’s best.