Today is Shrove Tuesday, in Italian Martedì Grasso (Fat Tuesday), and it is the day which signals the end of carnival and the beginning of lent. It is therefore the last day of carnival celebrations across Italy excepting those which follow the Ambrosian rite.
So, what does a typical Sicilian carnival look like? I went to the town of Valderice to find out.
Valderice celebrated 25 years of their carnival procession this year. Nowhere near as long as the oldest carnivals in Italy, or even Sicily for that matter, but pretty impressive for a small rural town of 11,500 inhabitants.
The carnival celebrations kicked off on Giovedì Grasso last Thursday and end today. Over the 6 days of celebrations the town has organised a variety of events including food tastings, dance displays and live music. But the heart of the carnival comes from the procession of elaborate floats bringing music, fun and spectacle to centre of this normally quiet rural town.
The town of Valderice lies in the valley of its more internationally famous neighbour, the medieval town of Erice. Situated on a hill the town enjoys spectacular views over the gulf of Bonagia from Mount Erice to Mount Cofano. During the carnival procession the main street of the town, Via Vespri, is closed off to traffic. This area becomes a vast pedestrian zone where residents descend in costume to enjoy the show and the exuberant atmosphere.
The Carnival Parade
Carnival is like one enormous street party. There is an infectious joyful atmosphere with a hint of naughtiness, after all:
“A carnevale ogni scherzo vale”
(During carnival any prank goes)
We headed out shortly after the parade was due to start. The street had already received a light dusting of coriandoli…nowhere near as much as the amount that carpeted the road a few hours later.
Coriandoli (paper confetti) are a classic carnival ‘scherzo’. Children (and many adults) take great joy in launching the stuff over each other. The joke being that it gets everywhere, in your hair, down your clothing…everywhere!
We thought we had done pretty well at getting the worst of it off, but I still keep finding it all over the place!
Eventually the procession started. Each float preceded by its own group of dancers with music blaring and showers of coriandoli being fired into the crowd. The first float this year was dedicated to the silver anniversary of the event. It featured a large silver face wearing a silver crown out of the top of which sprung a large number 25.
The floats are always secular in theme. Often they are a comment on political satire. Sometimes they follow the latest trends in children’s films. For example in past years there have been Minions and Kung Fu Panda. This year Valderice went back to carnival’s roots with a number of more traditional themes. These included carnival masks, carnival music and the classic joker—the clown.
There was a bit of satire thrown in though, with the selfie float.
It was a wonderfully fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon. If you ever find yourself in Sicily over the carnival period, do visit one of the many carnival events. You won’t regret it! (well maybe the coriandoli, just a little bit).