By: Krystal Vera
From every country to every family, there are traditions that carry on through generations and last for centuries. Italy is a country with a long history of traditions and cultural events. Every day a new tradition is created and added to the rich culture of this country. Whether or not these new traditions continue forward, depends on those who participate in them.
First celebrated in 1094, Carnevale has become a centuries-old tradition celebrated from the very tip of the boot-shaped country to the top. For two weeks, people of all social classes and ages are able to come together and party till they drop, using Lent as a recovering period. Brightly colored masks and costumes litter the streets of Venice. Carnevale opens with a bang with an event known as “The Flight of the Angel.” This event is meant to commemorate Turkish acrobats that impressed the crowds of the 16-century with tightrope walks high above St. Mark’s Square. Today, the “angel” flies about the square on a steel cable, directly above the mass of colorful costumes and cheers. Sure, the cable breaks the illusion of actual flying but it does serve its purpose. Who knows, maybe in the future the angel will “fly” via jetpack. Either way, natives and tourists crowd together for an opportunity to snap the “angel” on their smart devices, desperate to catch the moment to remember it forever.
Each costume wearer dons the ever famous Venetian mask. Carts line the streets of Italy months before Carnevale actually begins, providing natives and tourists alike with the opportunity to find the perfect mask to match their frock. Besides the obvious purpose of hiding one’s face, the mask was also a way for people to hide their identity and social class.
Without a proper identity there was no limit for how crazily one could party. Without an identity, there were no consequences. Hollywood latched onto the idea of these masks and used them to their advantage to better tell their stories. Phantom of the Opera or V for Vendetta, anyone?
From there, participants wander about the city via foot and gondola to experience the other events taking place. Most notable are the glamorous balls and performances both on the street and in the Gran Teatro in St. Mark’s Square. Finally, bid this tradition farewell with a bright fireworks show on the final night at midnight. After that, it’s back to responsibilities and the beginning of fasting. Insert unenthusiastic “yay” here.
Besides Venice, one of the most popular places to celebrate Carnevale is in Viareggio, a coastal town just about a half-hour away from Florence by train. Donned with paper mache masks and detailed Renaissance costumes, people line the streets of this seacoast city to watch elaborately decorated floats pass by. Everyone gets the chance to see the floats, near and far. Viareggio holds a parade every weekend for five weekends before Lent.
This celebration for many people is a time to forget about the stress and drama of their daily lives and indulge in the luxuries of Italian life. Between amazing costumes and 24/7 parties, there are no worries when Carnevale is being celebrated.
No more than 25 minutes away from the nonstop party in Viareggio is a smaller town making large impacts on new generations. With only three colleges dominating the streets (Monash University, The University of New Haven and Polo Universitario), the directors of each of these three Prato colleges have come together to form Prato Campus Week. Prato Campus Week began in 2012 when Kevin Murphy, the director of the study abroad program for the University of New Haven (UNH), came together with the directors of the other two colleges and agreed they wanted to create an event where students could come together for a week of fun and de-stress from finals. Similar to Carnevale, Prato Campus Week is a time for the participants to forget their stress and indulge in the many events taking place.
The events during Prato Campus Week change every semester, to ensure each group of students have different memories to cherish. Activities vary between music, sports, workshops and academics. Highlights from past Prato Campus Week’s include Human Foos Ball, the Australian barbecue and live music. While students are the only people who can partake during the games, natives and visitors to Prato of all ages are welcome to watch and cheer for their favorite University. This way, the traditional competitive side of both all the participating countries gets to shine. Modern day gaming becomes 10 times better when played on the ground of the only castle still standing in Tuscany. Incomplete due to a war, Castello dell’Imperatore provides a large, grassy plain perfect for gaming.
On open day, there is an open house for the university, giving outsiders the opportunity to see inside UNH’s walls. In the afternoon a small band raids the narrow streets of Prato with music, while the students hand out freebies to onlookers. Spectators are welcome to march with the students during the parade or just watch as the band marches by. But we all know it’s more fun to march.
According to Murphy, a parade-like event is not normally seen in Tuscany, especially in a party essence. He vouches for the new tradition, stating that “It’s magic. To see the people come out of their shops with smiles on their faces and to watch the people come together during this time. It’s absolute magic.” Murphy, along with other directors were able to coordinate an event that students not only looked forward to but fell in love with and continue to gush about long after they return to the states. Prato Campus Week is an original tradition that can last so long as the students, visitors and natives partake in the event.
Though Prato Campus Week and Carnevale have two very different beginnings and very different reasons for celebrating, they both serve the same function: bringing people together. With traditions like Carnevale, something old can inspire something new.