Lent or la Quaresima. Abstinence from traditional pleasures; maybe wine, tasty Italian deserts (dolci),or not speaking swearwords (parolacce). How do Italians prepare for 40 days of self-inflicted deprivation? Throw a party that lasts for weeks!
The word Carnevale comes from the term carne levare since eating meat was restricted as an atonement while preparing for Easter (Pasqua). The celebration itself has roots in ancient pagan celebrations such as Saturnalia and Lupercalia. In Italy il Carnevale is traditionally a time dedicated to parades, dances, masquerade balls, entertainment, music and widespread merriment. One of the oldest remaining documents about the use of masks in Venice dates to May 2, 1268, when the citizens where banned from playing a certain game while wearing masks. Nowadays mischief and pranks are part of the festivities, children bombard each other with silly string spray and confetti (coriandoli), adults attend extravagant costume balls, and some towns have a series of parades with spectacular papier–mâché floats.