Celebrating Venetian New Year, 1st March

Bon Cao de Ano a tuti i me amighi Venessiani! 

Happy New Year to all my Venetian friends!

Yep, you read that right and no I haven’t gone mad – March 1st is New Year’s Day for in Venice. And in 2015, for the first time in over 200 years, Venetians came together publicly to celebrate at the Rialto fish market. So how come Venetians are only just starting their new year?

New Year's party this way!!

New Year’s party this way!!

Back in medieval times there were two calendars in use across Europe, causing great confusion and much disagreement about when the year began and how the year was structured. The Roman liturgical calendar was used by the Christian church and started on the 1st January whereas the people used a pre-Christian agricultural or seasonally based calendar connected with nature, farming and the land.

The Rialto fish market draped with the Venetian flag

The Rialto fish market draped with the Venetian flag

The agricultural calendar, as with so many things, linked back to the Ancient Roman Empire and basically didn’t count the winter weeks as they were spent at home rather than out on the land. This meant that the year only had 10 months, not 12, which is how we get the names of September, October, November and December as they were named in Latin as the 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th months of the year. The new year only started again at the beginning of Spring just as the land was coming back to life and farmers’ work recommenced.

A four-legged Venetian!

A four-legged Venetian!

Oh and just to complicate things further, Italy, before the final completition of its unification in 1870, was actually a series of independent republics, city states or states governed by France or Austria. It was common, therefore, for neighbouring cities to have differing calendars. For example, you could leave Venice on 1st March 1245 to travel to Florence but would arrive in 1244! If you then left Florence shortly afterwards to travel to Pisa, you’d arrive in 1246!! And finally if you left Pisa for Provence and then went on to France you would pass back to 1245 and ultimately end up back in 1244 as long as you arrived before Easter on the 16th April!!! Now that’s the type of time-travel that even Dr Who or Marty McFly from Back to the Future would be confused by!

Lets go back to the future, or forward to the past....anyone know what day it is?!

Lets go back to the future, or forward to the past….anyone know what day it is?!

The Republic of Venice, if you haven’t guessed already, continued to use the seasonal agricultural calendar well beyond medieval times linking in to the natural cycle of the land and celebrating the 1st March as an official holiday. The Venetian calendar was designated by the Latin phrase more veneto or m.v. in written records to avoid confusion. And in fact, Venice only moved to the “new” Gregorian calendar (introduced by Pope Gregory X111 in 1582 to standardise Christian festival dates) in 1797 when Napolean toppled the republic. The French conquest meant that the final Venetian year had to be shortened to come in line with the Gregorian calendar on 1st January and standardise calendars across French territories.

Being Venetian means tasty traditional food and good local wine!

Being Venetian means tasty traditional food and good local wine!

Venetians these days are keen to remember their proud traditions and maintain a sense of community in the city. And so, for the first time since 1797, Venetian New Year was celebrated publicly in 2015 as a nod back to the republic’s history and Venetian custom.

A good hot plate of pasta and beans will warm you up!

A good hot plate of pasta and beans will warm you up!

As with every good Venetian party there was food, drink and music a-plenty! Steaming cauldrons of pasta arrived by motorboat at regular intervals to re-stock the sagging tressel tables laden down by traditional dishes including pasta e faxioi (pasta and beans), sarde in saor (sardines in onions), baccalà (salt cod pate), risi e gamberi (rice and prawns), lasagna and bigoi in salsa (pasta, similar to spaghetti, in sauce).

Bigoi in salsa - tasty, very tasty!

Serving up bigoi in salsa – tasty, very tasty!

Note : Bigoi or Bigoli in salsa is a typical Venetian first course and is traditionally eaten during the fasting days of Lent, Good Friday, Ash Wednesday and also Christmas Eve.

Barrels of ombra lined up ready to quench the thirst of the locals (and a few visitors, ahem!)!

Barrels of ombra lined up ready to quench the thirst of the locals (and a few visitors, ahem!)!

It was all washed down by a glass or two of the local ombra wine, so-called as it was traditionally sold in the shadow, or ombra, of St Mark’s bell tower. And happily all monies raised from the celebrations were going to those in need within the city, so everyone was happy to help out by having a second or even third glass!!

Local writer Franco Filippi recollects times past

A local writer recollects times past

And so, as the sun slowly set over Venice, songs including the old Venetian anthem were sung at the Rialto Market, one of the oldest sites in the city, and speeches made to celebrate the start of another year with a renewed sense of community. Maybe, just maybe, the Venetian Republic wasn’t completely conquered by Napoleon and lives on after all!

Ccelebrating New Year at the Rialto market on the Grand Canal, Venice

Ccelebrating New Year at the Rialto market on the Grand Canal, Venice

Note #1 : Many thanks go to my lovely friend Daniela Callegari for her help with the Venetian translations – I nearly had it right but clearly need a few lessons in the Venetian dialect!!!

Note #2 : If you’re want to know how to say Happy New Year in Italian rather than Venetian you might want to check out our DreamDiscoverItalia Italian 101 posts giving suggestions of useful Italian phrases, all of which are easy to learn! I can’t promise that we’ll make you fluent in Italian overnight, but with the help of our our Italian 101 posts you can learn a little and often and hopefully have a bit of fun doing it!

Note #3 : Another traditional song sung at Venetian New Year is as below

El sołe taca a scaldare, xè finia la stajon scura,
fa manco fredo e intei canpi se risveja la natura.
FEMO FORA FEBRARO batendo cuerci e busołoti,
sui monti ghe xè anca chi che sćiopa i boti.
Magnemo, bevemo, femo festa tuta ła sera
par CIAMARE MARSO e ła beła primavera.
Mi provo a tenjere vive łe vecie tradision
e ałora te auguro che l’ Ano Novo sia Bon !
CAO DEL ANO Veneto 2014/15

The Italian translation is –

Il sole inizia a scaldare, è finita la stagione scura,
è meno freddo e nei campi si risveglia la natura.
FEMO FORA FEBRARO battendo coperchi e bussolotti,
sulle montagne c’ è anche chi scoppia i botti.
Mangiamo, beviamo, facciamo festa tutta la sera
per CIAMARE MARSO e la bella primavera.
A tener vive , le antiche tradizioni , io ci provo
e allora ti auguro : Buon Anno Nuovo !
CAO DEL ANO Veneto 2014/15

And, although I’m clearly no songwriter or poet, the first line of the English translation goes something along the lines of – “The sun starts to heat up, the dark season is finished, its less cold and in the fields nature is re-awakening!” I’ll keep working on the rhyming…..!!

Useful information

New Year celebrations in 2016 will be held at the Rialto market on Saturday 5th March so everyone can party to the full! More event information here

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10 Responses to Celebrating Venetian New Year, 1st March

  1. suggs69 says:

    Phew! Does anything not happen in Venice? 🙂

  2. Francis says:

    Its pisan New year soon here soon on march 21. Another party!

  3. Cecelia Pierotti says:

    I love that they’ve reinstated this celebration….an authentic holiday for the local population …..Grazie come sempre!!!!

    • lizbert1 says:

      Yeah, it was another chance for the community to come together Cecelia which is always fantastic I think! Hope there are more opportunities to get together when you’re here too Cecelia!!

  4. Lyn says:

    Interesting story about a fascinating place

  5. I did not know that. Thanks for enlightening me, and Bon Cao de Ano to you, too.

    • lizbert1 says:

      There is soooooo much to discover isn’t there, and just not enough hours in the day!! Keep your great posts coming too – I enjoyed your latest on the gondola!! :o)

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