Every year Venice, Italy, hosts a carnival that takes place in the week leading up to Shrove Tuesday, also called Fat Tuesday. Similar festivals occur around the globe, including Mardi Gras celebrations. The Venetian festival is more refined than most other Fat Tuesday celebrations and typically involves glamorous balls, feasts and fancy dress. Incorporate the traditions of the Venetians when planning your carnival party.
The carnival in Venice is traditionally marked by masked balls, or the masquerade. Encourage guests to arrive at your party wearing traditional or Venetian-inspired carnival masks. Venetian masquerade dress hearkens back to the finery of the Renaissance, with full gowns for the ladies and hose and puffed sleeves for the men. A modern alternative is to host a fancy dress masquerade with ball gowns and tuxedos along with the traditional Venetian masks. Guests can take turns trying to guess the other guests' identities, but the unmasking takes place either at the end of the night or before the meal.
Most Venetian carnival activities are quite formal. Ballroom dancing is the norm, usually with live music ensembles. For a smaller party at home, recorded music suffices but doesn't provide as much atmosphere as a live musician or ensemble. While the style of dance in a Venetian ball is typically formal, you can add some modern music and dances to the set list if desired. Provide enough room for your guests to dance while also supplying some seating for those who prefer to rest or converse.
Carnival is a feast holiday, so hosting your own dinner party fits the theme well. There are few traditional foods associated with the Venetian carnival, so instead serve a banquet featuring Mediterranean and Italian favorites. Most traditional carnival feasts are formal banquets, but for a small party, an informal buffet set-up is acceptable. Hosting the feast after the masquerade allows the guests to unmask before they eat, but if you choose this order of events, have some hors d'oeuvres available during the masquerade so no one becomes hungry.
Venice hosts a few traditional events during its carnival celebration that you can recreate during your party. Street performers come out during the carnival period. For a large party, consider hiring a juggler or other performer to entertain your guests. The flight of the angel, a traditional event that marks the beginning of carnival, consists of a girl dressed as an angel ascending to the top of Saint Mark's cathedral. Recreate this tradition at your party using a doll and pulley system.
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