According to the Roman Catholic tradition, Carnival is the last chance to be fool and glutton before the beginning of Lent, the 40 days-fast preceding Easter which starts right after it, on Ash Wednesday. Its origin roots back to ancient Greek and Roman rituals like the Dyonisian ones and the Saturnalia, which generally marked a period of breaking free from the law and chaos when all excess is allowed (especially those about food and wine drinking), before turning back to business as usual: that's why in Italy they say “a Carnevale ogni scherzo vale” (during Carnival, any prank is allowed). Floats' parades and mask-wearing were also a distinctive feature of such feasts, during which public order was temporarily suspended, and those same features are still alive nowadays with multicoloured floats' parades on the streets and people, especially children, hanging around with all sorts of disguises.
The magical Carnival in Sauris
Carnival tradition in Sauris, or “Carnevale Saurano” has very peculiar traits which make it differ from other Italian and Friulian ones. They have their own typical masked characters known as Rölar and Kheirar. Rölar is the one who gathers all the people in the streets to mark the beginning of Carnival celebrations on Thursday, summoning them with the sound of his röln (bells). Everyone floods in and parties all over the town and through the surrounding woods along with the Carnival parade, with people holding lanterns to light up the night in a magical atmosphere. Then, just as Mardi Gras is about to end, Kheirar seals the ritual by sweeping the streets, a symbolic gesture meant to swipe winter away and welcome spring instead, due to arrive as Easter comes. Everybody wears wooden masks with stark facial features (for men) or veils (for women), usually matched with old worn-out trousers and dresses, hats and coloured paper flowers, and masks are usually split in two categories: nice ones and ugly ones.
In Friuli Venezia Giulia there are unique Carnival parades also in Resia Valley, located between the Julian Alps and Prealps on the border with Slovenia, and in Muggia, a Venice-like small town near Trieste where floats' parade is usually grand and majestic. But to see all those beautiful and funny parades, unfortunately we'll have to wait until next year...
Photo of Sauris Carnival taken from the website www.sauris.org