Even with an extra day this year February is still the shortest month of the year so we’d better get cracking, as there is plenty to cram in including carnival, Chinese New Year and Valentine’s day! Ready? Pronti? Lets dive straight in!
23rd January to 9th February – Venice Carnival
Venice Carnival kicked off very early this year so we’re already over half way through but there are still a few days of festivities including the final of the best mask competition to go so plenty to see!
The main dates to look out for are –
Note : the date for Carnival changes each year depending on when Lent and Easter fall so always check before you book your flights to ensure you catch the main attractions.
2nd February – Festa della Madonna della Candelora or candlemas
February in Italy tends to see a gentle brightening of the weather as winter’s grip loosens and spring coming a-knocking. In Venice they even have a special rhyme to predict when that changeover happens and it goes a little like this –
“Da la Madona Candeòra de l’inverno semo fora; ma se xe piova e vento, de l’inverno semo drento” (Venetian)
For those not fluent in Venetian (No? Me neither!), it means something along the lines of “From the festival of Madonna della Candelora, we’re out of winter, but if there’s rain or wind, we’re still in winter.” Apologies for my rather raw translation! So if you’re unsure whether its spring yet, I suggest you check with a Venetian!
4th February 2016 – Bacanal del Gnoco (Verona Carnival)
Since the Middle Ages, Verona has celebrated the actions of a local hero, Tommaso Da Vico, with the Bacanal del Gnoco on the last Friday before Lent.
The legend goes back to 1530-1 when, after severe floods and numerous raids by their German enemies, Verona was suffering a terrible famine. The population was starving and ready to revolt, threatening to attack the bakers who had raised their prices sky high due to the lack of raw ingredients. Fortunately a few honest citizens, including Doctor Tommaso Da Vico from the San Zeno district of the city, were nominated to take control.
Taxes from the chestnut and olive harvests were subsidised with money from Tommaso Da Vico and others. And on the last Friday before Lent the doctor handed out bread, wine, flour, butter and cheese from a marble slab topped tomb in front of the church of San Zeno. He even left a provision in his to ensure that food would be distributed every year after his death, thus starting a tradition that has lasted 486 years so far!
Today the Veronese people celebrate with the Bacanal del Gnoco, the Day of Plenty or the Day of the Dumpling, with costumes, masks and parades of floats, brass bands and drummers throughout the city. It’s one of the oldest carnival traditions in Italy and Tommaso Da Vico, the Papà del Gnoco or father of the dumpling, is represented as a ruddy-cheeked, old man with a long beard and a golden fork topped with a plump dumpling!
During the parade the Papà and his servants or macaroni give out sweets for children and dumplings for adults. Thousands take to the streets to party and eat the cheesy dumplings that signifiy the end of famine and the return of plenty so its one not to miss!
4th & 5th February – Feast Day of Saint Agatha, in Sicily
February 5th is the feast day of St Agatha, the 3rd century patron saint of Catania in eastern Sicily. According to legend, the devout young Agatha rejected the advances of a Roman official, who was rather peeved and retaliated by torturing Agatha for her Christian faith, putting her to the stake on February 5th 251 AD. Nice!
And that might have been the end of the story but one of the many tortures that Agatha suffered was to have her breasts cut off. She’s even depicted in paintings as carrying her own breasts on a plate. And from that grew the tradition of baking breast shaped cakes – known as minnuzzi ri sant’Àjita in Sicillian, Minni di Sant’Agata or St Agatha’s Nipples – to commemorate the saint, much to the amusement of many a small boy down through the centuries, I suspect!
The cakes – often also called minni di virgini (virgins’ nipples) or casatine (little casatas) – are normally filled with sweet ricotta or patisserie cream, covered with green marzipan and then a glossy white or pink icing with a cherry nipple. The original cakes were baked in a monastery in Palermo but today you can find them throughout Sicily, Italy and even in New York bakeries and now you know why!
But St Agatha is not only remembered with cake. The Catania people are devoted to their saint and celebrate her every year with a dawn mass on the 4th February followed by a huge procession. An enormous glittering statue of Agatha is carried through the streets of Catania on a silver platform and over 1 million spectators try to catch a glimpse of her. Fireworks mark the end of celebrations on the evening of February 5th but locals continue to call on the saint throughout the year when Mount Etna rumbles or to help those with breast cancer. Clearly Agatha was stronger, in the end, than her torturers and her memory lives on.
Sunday 7th February – Free entry to over 300 state museums on the first Sunday of every month!
If you’re an art-lover on a budget, always plan your Italian trip around the first Sunday of the month, whatever month you’re travelling, as over 300 state museums and galleries throw open their doors for free under the #DomenicaAlMuseo (Sunday at the Museum) national initiative.
Free venues include gardens, historical monuments, archeological sites and some big name museums such as the Accademia in Venice or the enormous Palazzo Pitti in Florence. Check out my post with the list of museums and calendar for 2016 so you don’t miss out!
Sunday 7th & Monday 8th February – Chinese New Year
OK, so technically this isn’t an Italian festival per se, but there are a number of Chinese-Italian communities, particularly in Rome and Milan, who celebrate the festivities with fabulous dragon parades, lion dances, firecrackers and fireworks so it is worth noting. If you’re in town on either the eve of the New Year of the monkey (Sunday 7th February) or on Chinese New Year’s day (Monday 8th February) why not check out the parades!
Rome : New Year’s eve is celebrated with a traditional parade along the Via dei Fori Imperiali in the centre of the city. It starts at the Largo Corrado Ricci at the Forum end of Via Cavour and follows a route around the Vittoriano Museum, wending its way through the streets of Chinatown. There is also an evening of Chinese culture – the Firecracker Ceremony – that takes place on New Year’s Day (8th Feb). The stage is set at the side of the Victor Emmanuele monument and culminates in a fireworks display from the Celio hill above the Colosseum around 10.30pm. For more information here
Milan : the city is home to the oldest and largest Chinese community in Italy, focused around Via Paolo Sarpi near to Parco Semione. Celebrations will take place on Tuesday 8th February in the Parco Semione. And occasionally the community celebrates further on the 15th day of the New Year with a lantern festival but I’ve not been able to confirm if it will be happening in 2016 so check local media for updates.
7th, 8th & 9th February – La Battaglia delle Arance, Battle of the Oranges, in Ivrea
Ivrea, in northern Italy sits between Turin and the Aosta Valley. It was settled by the Romans and was a key stop for travellers before crossing the Alpine St Bernard Pass into France. Today it’s better known for its carnival celebrations and particularly for the Battle of the Oranges.
The historical carnival tradition in Ivrea dates back to the Middle Ages when a local tyrant tried, unsuccessfully, to claim his feudal right to sleep with the new bride of one of his tenants. The oranges weren’t added until the 1800s representing the battle between common people and their oppressive rulers.
Carnival festivities start on Epiphany on 6th January with parades every Sunday until the oranges start flying on the last Sunday, Monday and Tuesday before Lent. Think food fight multiplied by Spain’s La Tomatina tomato festival with added turbo power! Over 500,000 kilos of oranges will be flung leaving so much mulch that snow ploughs are used to clear the streets! This is serious business!
Spectators can watch from behind safety nets to avoid the missiles and associated bruises although it is also advised to wear non-slip shoes, waterproofs and the traditional berretto frigio or red beret for extra protection. Oh and orange juice stings if it gets into eyes or cuts so cover up! If, however, you want to join in the fun, you will have to be part of a team (and a little mad), parting with around €100-120 for the privilege! If you appreciate carnival related fun and frivolity, this one needs to be on your list, along with a strong throwing arm!
7th February to 5th March – Viareggio Carnival, Tuscany
Carnival celebrations also continue over in Viarreggio, on the western coast of Tuscany, where the summer beach resort becomes party central as hundreds of thousands of costumed revellers descend on the town to celebrate mardi gras.
Street parades with elaborately decorated floats and mammoth papier-mâché figures take place every Sunday for 5 weeks as thousands line the route. The puppets are designed and made by local teams who’ve often learnt their craft from fathers and grandfathers. And each year the figures, animated with internal machinery to move their limbs, get more audacious calling on show business, history or politics for inspiration. It’s more like living art, than just a local parade, and well worth seeing.
Dates for 2016’s parades are 7th, 14th, 21st, 28th February and 5th March with fireworks closing the last evening. More information can be found on the official website here
9th – 13th February – Sanremo Music Festival
The Festival della canzone Italiana di Sanremo, is a national institution in Italy. It started in 1951 as a contest to find the best unreleased songs or artists and was the original inspiration for the pan-European Eurovision Song Contest. You could also argue that it was a very early forerunner to the X Factor!
Over the years it has launched the careers of some very famous singers including Andrea Bocelli, Laura Pausini, Tiziano Ferro and Il Volo who competed at the Eurovision in 2015. Today it is still used as a showcase for up-and-coming young artists and for choosing the Italian entry for the Eurovision from a line-up of established artists so if you’re in Italy don’t forget to tune in to Rai 1 and vote!
11th February – World Day of the Sick
World day of the sick is a Roman Catholic feast day started by Pope John Paul II in 1992 to encourage people to pray for, offer help and commemorate those in their lives who are suffering with illness. The day is a reminder to reach out to neighbours and friends and it also took on additional significance for Catholics recently when Pope Benedict XVI announced his retirement due to ill health on the feast day in 2013.
12th – 15th February 2016 – Verona in Love
Verona, home to Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers, celebrates Valentine’s Day every year with poetry, romantic concerts, special themed walking tours, gifts and entertainment in Piazza Dei Signore and across the city. Red heart shaped lanterns decorate the streets, shops dress their windows and thousands of lovers leave love notes at Juliet’s house and around town in the hope that maybe Cupid will hear them! Even the market in Piazza Dei Signore is heart-shaped as the city goes mad for romance!! Verona is in love!
Whether you want to serenade your loved one or even propose Verona has a range of different events and locations to transport you and give you the perfect Valentine weekend getaway.
Or if you still have some energy after all your amourous adventures (ahem!) there is always the Giulietta and Romeo Verona in Love Half Marathon on the 14th February! I’ll leave that one up to you!!!
12th to 21st February – Fiera Del Cioccolato In Piazza Santa Maria Novella, Florence
Both Perugia and Turin are famous for their chocolates but this month Florence is tickling your tastebuds with its annual Fiera del Cioccolato market of chocolatiers and chocolate artisans from around Tuscany.
Stalls will be set up in front of the beautiful Church of Santa Maria Novella designed by renowned architect and art historian Giorgio Vasari making this an ideal location to taste test the chocolaty temptations and take in a bit of Florence’s wonderful history! It’s also perfectly timed for some pre-Valentine shopping or to console the broken hearted afterwards. Plus its just a stone’s throw from the station! Perfetto!!
14th February – Festa degli Innamorati or St Valentines Day
We all know about St Valentine’s Day, but did you know that Valentine was originally Italian?! No, neither did I! So who was he and why do we celebrate Valentine’s Day?
There are a few different legends but one of the most popular one tells that Valentine was born into a noble family in 176 AD. He converted to Christianity as a youngster and was consecrated as the Bishop of Terni, in Umbria in 197 AD aged just 21. He spent his entire life as a preacher, spreading the new religion but when Roman Emperors Claudius II and then Aureliano both asked him to give up his faith he refused.
This was the last straw for the Romans. The old man was captured by soldiers and taken outside the walls of Rome to be beheaded. He died on February 14th 273 AD aged 97 years old but not before he had apparently left a note in his prison cell to the daughter of the prison warder, signing it “From your Valentine”. And so was born a saint and a legend!
How will you celebrate? Leave me a comment with your favourite Valentine stories.
14th February – Italy v France, RBS 6 Nations Rugby in Rome
If you’re more of a sports fan don’t miss out on the RBS 6 Nations rugby union tournament that comes to Rome’s Stadio Olimpico this month. Italy face arch-rivals France for their first home game in front of around 80,000 fans.
The Azzurri have a tendancy to play well at home using the crowd as a 16th man to push them over the goal line but France are no pushovers so it should be a fabulous match! Will Italy repeat their win in 2013 or will the Gauls be successful? I know where my money is…….Forza Azzurri!!!
28th February – Mercatone dell’Antiquariato del Naviglio Grande monthly antiques market, Milan
Milan in north-west Italy is famous for its designer fashion houses, but if you prefer vintage or antiques I have just the thing for you as the monthly vintage market in the Naviglio canal district is perfect for a Sunday morning’s shopping.
Over 2km of canal path is packed with 400 stalls laden with collectibles, antiques and all manner of vintage treasures including books, paintings, nic-nacs and furniture.
Open from 9am to 6pm on the last Sunday of every month (except July) this is one market not to miss. And if you need a snack or lunch to keep you going why not pop into the Mercato Metropolitano for a tasty pause!
29th February – Keeping our calendars straight!
Every fourth year we get an extra day for free on February 29th. And 2016 is one of those years. But why do we have leap years and who came up with the idea? Well, it seems like we have the Romans to thank for our extra day, but don’t expect to see any celebrations in Italy as these days leap years are considered bad luck! Just enjoy the extra day!
Average temperatures for February in Italy
February is still technically in winter, despite what the Venetians think, so the weather can be cool by Italian standards. The good news, however, is that the days are getting longer with around 8 hours of sunshine and the rainfall is lower than in January although there will be occasional showers or even a storm once in a while so always pack an umbrella.
The capital of Rome can see temperatures of around 12-15’C during February so it’s warm enough to sit outside a café or watch the rugby in the sunshine, but cool in the shade. You won’t be working up a tan though so keep wrapped up with your layers! Temperatures around the coast should be reasonable at around 9-10’C although not enough to unpack your bikini and the sea isn’t warm enough to swim yet! Up in the mountains the ski season should still be in full swing although snowfalls have been lower and later this season so always check before you fly.
And so there you have it. The shortest month of the year and yet the most packed with more than enough to see and do for a romantic winter break! If you know of any other events in February please leave me a comment below so I can add them to the calendar or tell me about your favourite February events in your neck of the woods! In the meantime, I’d like to wish everyone a very happy St Valentine’s Day, whether you’re in a relationship or not, and very happy travels!!!
The post What’s On in Italy in February first appeared on DreamDiscoverItalia.