Milan has just had its Carnivale celebration. Carnivale is the last hurrah before the carnal deprivation of Lent, and should technically be celebrated on Fat Tuesday (or Mardi Gras), the day before Ash Wednesday.
In Italy, however, Carnivale is celebrated for two weeks. Unlike the nearly naked and drunken celebrations of Carnivale in Brazil or Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Carnivale here is mostly for children. Confetti, Silly String in aerosol cans, streamers and costumes can be found in most every market and shop during the month of February. And a two week celebration means that a child can celebrate Carnivale with her grandparents in Parma one weekend and celebrate at home in Milan the next weekend.
One February I was in the small town of Iseo, Italy by the like-named lake. I was tired, so I sat on a bench near a place where the sidewalk narrowed. There was a boy about 3-4 years old in costume. His dad was also tired so they shared my bench. The boy had a bag of confetti and every time he saw another child approaching he pulled out a fistful and—POW!—showered the other kid with confetti. The giggling that followed was positively contagious. Then he would load up again and wait for his next victim. We passed an hour or so this way.
February of 2010 I was in Venice. I would never have deliberately gone to Venice during Carnivale because I don’t like being in crowds, but since I was there and it would probably be my only chance to do so, I went to St. Mark’s Square and watched the celebration. Venice’s Carnivale is quite a spectacle, with some of the most opulent and elaborate costumes I have ever seen. It reminded me of the costume party scene in Hitchcock’s “It Takes a Thief.” I was told that some people save up all year for their Carnivale costumes, and I can believe it. But it was a also an event for children. At one point, I found myself near a family with two children. The little boy kept tossing confetti on his little sister, who was too little to understand or appreciate the fun. Finally he got frustrated with her and turned and threw confetti on me. “Whee!” I giggled every time he did it, which made him keep doing it until his mother stopped him. I think she must have thought I was just being kind, but really I was having fun.
The very next day was when God told me about my ministry to Europe. I like to think that God will use me and the rest of the missionaries in Europe to bring revival, and then we’ll celebrate in a party that never has to end.
Yesterday celebrations ended here in Milan—just when I had gotten used to riding the subway with fairy princesses and Power Rangers! All that’s left is Carnivale’s detritus: confetti and spent streamers all over the ground, and silly string going gooey all over the walls. The city is really good about cleaning up after Carnivale, so there will be hardly a trace of its silly fun. I don’t normally mind the winter, but February really needs Carnivale’s fun. I think God knew that!