Carnevale, also known as Carnival or Mardi Gras (and sometimes Fat Tuesday), is celebrated in Italy and many places around the world during the 40 days before Easter, and a final party before Ash Wednesday and Lent. Carnevale is one of Italy's biggest winter festivals and events often last for two to three weeks before the actual carnival day. Many Italian towns celebrate Carnevale the weekend before the last day of carnival, which is on Shrove Tuesday.
Because the date of Easter changes each year, so do the dates for carnival festivals. Depending on the lunar calendar, Carnevale can fall anywhere from early February to early March. If you're planning to go to Italy for a Carnevale celebration, especially in popular cities such as Venice and Viareggio, which is famous for its elaborate parades, you'll need to make reservations for hotels and some special events at least several months ahead of time.
But fear not, while the dates change each year, they are predictable. Here are upcoming dates for the day of Carnevale in Italy which the last day of festivities. If you want the full experience, plan to be in Italy at least a few days before the dates below.
Note: Most places in Europe and around the world that hold carnival festivals will have the same dates so you will have to pick which festival you want to attend.
Carnevale Dates 2020-2025
- 2020: Feb. 25
- 2021: Feb.16
- 2022: March 1
- 2023: Feb.21
- 2024: Feb. 13
- 2025: March 4
Remember that Carnevale, carnival or mardi gras, wherever it's held, is a pre-Lenten festival. That means that in Italy, once it's over, a much quieter, more reflective mood takes hold in the weeks leading up to Easter. In Rome and elsewhere, Holy Week, or Easter Week, is second only to Christmas in its importance. Easter itself is a day of worship but also of feasting, to celebrate the end of Lent.
From Ash Wednesday (the day after Carnevale) through Easter Sunday you may be hard pressed to find meat in smaller Italian cities. It's apart of the Lenten fasting tradition, though there will be plenty of fish available.
History of Carnevale
While Carnevale now has a solidly Catholic connection, it has roots in pagan traditions. The sometimes weeks' long celebrations include masks, parades, a lot of oranges (similar to how mardi gras celebrations have copious amounts of beaded necklaces) and maybe even a few pranks. Celebrations come to a fever pitch on the day of Carnevale with fireworks and feasts. Historically, this day was dedicated to eating as much as possible to prepare for the upcoming fasts.
Carnevale Celebrations Around Italy
Venice arguably has one of most famous Carnevale celebrations in all of Italy. The festivities start a few weeks before Carnevale and some popular events include the Water parade, where decorated boats float along the Rio di Cannaregio; Festa delle marie, a land-based costume procession; and Flight of the Angel, a dramatic reenactment that sees someone fly through Piazza San Marco while suspended from a rope. The climactic event is a fireworks show in the Piazza on Carnevale.
For the biggest Carnevale celebration in Italy head to Viareggio in Tuscany. Its claim to fame are the massive, colorful papier-mache float that depict current events and politics. There are no less than five parade with the final parade happening on Saturday night before a large fireworks show.
For a delicious and messy celebration, Ivrea is the place to be. Their Carnevale festivities include an orange battle in the center of town after a large parade kicks things off. From the Sunday before through the Tuesday of Carnevale, there are daily orange battles that, according to local folklore, represent a medieval battle held in the town. To see one of the oldest celebrations, go to Verona's Carnevale. The tradition dates all the way back to 1615 and the city throws a parade with more than 500 floats.
Those are only a few of the many Carnevale celebrations held throughout the country but there are many more to discover. For more information on all the possible fun to be had, see our article on how to celebrate Carnevale around Italy.