Is February really the cruelest month?

February 11, 2008

I know we’re already 10 days into the month, but I was thinking about this the other day … about how February is often called the cruelest month. I can completely understand that mentality for we New Englanders (where, as I sit typing today, we’ve alternately had wind gusts blowing billowing snow, blue sky, and then hail again….). But for Italians, February connotes “party time” as Carnevale — the happy abbondanza-eating days that lead up to Martedi Grasso (Fat Tuesday). Elsewhere in the world it is also known as Shrove Tuesday or the more familiar Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

The translation of Carnevale is literally “meat away.” Carnevale marked the beginning of the austere Lenten season, meaning that no meat was eaten. So to get ready, food was and still is central in a big way, leading up to Ash Wednesday. This is especially true in Naples where a lavish Lasagne di Carnevale is prepared with meats, cheese, eggs and prosciutto.

But as you’d guess, the festivities are most intense in Venice, where revels go on for weeks as partygoers from all over the world hit the city of water donning fantastic costumes and masks.

I was in Venice one year during Carnevale and rented a wonderful costume complete with a hand-held golden mask and a large velvet feathered hat. When I looked at myself in the mirror, I had truly become a Venetian. If I can I’ll dig up a photo to show you.

So between Carnevale and San Valentino’s Feast Day on February 14, which is a huge date not only in Italy but here in the United States for showing amore to all those we cherish with dolci and baci, how can February be that cruel?

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