Carnivals in Ticino
Carnevale di Roveredo, 3-8 February
Carnevale di Lugano, 11-16 February
Carnevale di Bellinzona (Rabadan Carnival), 12-15 February
Carnevale di Chiasso (Nebiopoli Carnival), 12-17 February
Carnevale di Locarno, 13 February
Carnevale di Biasca, 18-21 February
Carnevale di Tesserete (Penagin Carnival), 18-21 February
Just 70 kilometres from Milan, Lugano and its surroundings in Switzerland will surprise you with several events and folk festivals. The most fun-filled days of the year, i.e. those dedicated to Carnival (Carnevale), kick off in the nearby region of Italian-speaking Switzerland on 12 February, in Bellinzona, with Rabadan. Until the following Tuesday, i.e. 17 February, known as Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras, the capital hosts the festivities with ‘Guggen’ bands (Saturday 14) and a large masked parade (Sunday 15), A carnivalesque tradition that is repeated in Chiasso when the communal authorities hand over the keys of the city to the Prime Minister who, to mark the occasion, transforms it into the Free Republic of Nebiopoli (12-17 February). According to the Ambrosian rite, the party continues in Tesserete near Lugano with “risotto and luganighe” a go-go and a large masked parade led by his majesty “Or Penagin” (18-21 February).
Traditionally associated with showmanship, Carnival is all about having fun, indulgence and letting go. In a peasant community like the one that existed in Ticino until around the mid-20th century, Carnival represented a time of plentiful eating, due mainly to the fact that this period preceded Lent, a time devoted to abstinence, fasting, penitence, moderation and spiritual discipline, especially at mealtimes.
The traditional Carnival dish was “risotto” accompanied by “luganighe” (traditional Ticino and North Italian sausage) and it was also customary to eat chestnuts with cream. Carnival was also one of the rare occasions dedicated to having fun and socializing with others. Music and dancing encouraged contact between young people. ‘Tombola’ (a form of Italian bingo) was played and contests to climb the “Palo della Cuccagna”, i.e. a greasy pole, were held in a bid to capture the gifts and food dangling from the top. In towns and villages, Carnival was marked by plays, masked balls and the circulation of satirical newspapers.
The end of Carnival was announced by the ringing of a bell and in some regions by a bonfire. In the areas in which the Roman rite was celebrated, Carnival festivities ended on Mardi Gras while in other places, in keeping with the Ambrosian rite, it continued until Saturday.
Carnival of Rabadan – An ummissable event to spend the most funfilled days of the year in the capital. In keeping with the Roman rite, this Carnival starts on Thursday when the keys of the city are handed over to King Rabadan, marking the beginning of festivities. On Saturday, carnival bands, the so-called ‘Guggen’ from Ticino and the German-speaking part of Switzerland entertain the crowds with musical performances, also staging a spectacular show in the evening in Piazza Collegiata. On Sunday, Bellinzona hosts the customary “Grande Corteo Mascherato” (Large Masked Parade) which sees thousands of masked revellers animating the streets with music and floats in keeping with the best tradition of the Carnival of King Rabadan. In the evening, make sure to head to the marquees set up for the occasion where you can celebrate in true Carnival style by eating, drinking and dancing until the wee hours of the morning.
Bellinzona, from 12 to 17 February.
Carnival of Nebiopoli – The Nebiopoli Carnival in Chiasso is the only carnival in Ticino not presided over by a monarch. During the festivities, a prime minister is elected and the town is transformed into the Free Republic of Nebiopoli. During the six-day carnival, the ‘Guggenmusik’ stage an uproarious performance, while on Mardi Gras, the Nebiopoli masked parade winds through the streets of the centre animated by floats, groups of people wearing masks, bands and Guggenmusik.
Chiasso, from 12 to 17 February.
Carnival of Penagin – The Penagin Carnival in Tesserete is the main carnival in the Lugano area. Its name derives from “or” – a masculine determinative article in local dialect – and from “penagia”, a word used in local dialect to indicate a churn, the utensil used to make butter in farming society. The ruling monarch of this carnival is “His Majesty Or Penagin”, accompanied by “Prime Minister Porta Penagia”. Events offered during the 3-day carnival include a concert staged by a Guggen band, a masked parade and the annual ‘Palo della Cuccagna’ (an event featuring a greasy pole that brave partiers attempt to climb).
Tesserete, from 18 to 21 February.