Italy’s best party, known to others as Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday, is all about the food for Italian families.

Carnevale is the way Italians refer to the day before Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. In normal times, the people in Venice take to the streets. They wear elegant and detailed masks, feast on decadent food, and toast the good life.

The next day, they go to church for a priest to place a cross of ashes on their forehead. It marks the start of Lent, the holy period Christians observe in anticipation of Easter Sunday. During Lent, Christians either give up something they enjoy or dedicate themselves to good deeds. So, Carnevale is the last chance to indulge.

Americans are well aware of the festivities of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Carnevale is the same deal without the nudity. But Carnevale is not reserved for those who party hard and college kids at the bars. In Italy, families, even if they never step foot in Venice, celebrate Carnevale.

Children in schools across Italy dress up like it is American Halloween. They wear costumes. You might see Mickey Mouse or Spider-Man or a cow walking into the elementary schools.

At home, Italians gather around the table for a special meal. You are likely to find antipasto, lasagna or another meat-based pasta, and fried dough, known as zeppole or the Sicilian version known as sfingi. In the South, they also make migliaccio, which is essentially a pasta pie.

On Ash Wednesday and every Friday during Lent, Catholics refrain from eating meat and give up something special to them. They don’t have to give up a food, but they often do. People might give up chocolate or bread or some other treat that can be a small exercise in sacrifice. So, again, the Carnevale meal is a last hurrah.

In 2020, the celebration will not be as lively. The sacrifices are already plenty. But there is light shining on us, thanks to the vaccine. In this house, we will still make our lasagna and sprinkle powdered sugar on our zeppoles. Tonight, we feast!

Do you celebrate Carnevale? Tell us how you mark the occasion.

Francesca Di Meglio is a veteran reporter who has worked for Bloomberg Businessweek and Ladies’ Home Journal. Visit francescaandantonio.com for her blog.

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