Carnival traditions in Ticino

It is a celebration linked to the territory, pleasure, music and gastronomy with which the Ticinese have been familiar since childhood. During littered with colourful confetti and mischievous masks, and the nights are enlivened by noise, music and dancing. A crazy festival to get together, have fun and eat well. But which carnival traditions are typical of Ticino and the Ascona-Locarno region? Even if we have to do without larger carnival events in the squares and streets once again this year, that doesn't mean we can't celebrate carnival. We bring colourful confetti directly to your home with a detailed overview on Ticino's carnival traditions.

The biggest and best-known carnival in Ticino is Rabadan in Bellinzona, but to be honest there are plenty of carnivals in our canton, and not only in the big cities: Almost every village has its own characteristic carnival, and there are more than 130 local festivals. On Lake Maggiore, among the most important are those in Locarno, Ascona and Brissago. Parties, dancing, celebrations, noise, colour, happiness and delicious sweets. These are the most important ingredients for a successful Ticino carnival. In Ticino, the celebrations also last longer than anywhere else.

This is because in Ticino, in addition to the Roman rite carnival, in some places such as Tesserete, Brissago and in the upper Ticino (Leventina, Blenio, Riviera), the Ambrosian rite carnival is still celebrated, a tradition linked to the fact that the canton still belonged to the dioceses of Como and Milan until the second half of the 19th century. The two carnivals take place at two different times: the Roman one from Thursday to Tuesday before Ash Wednesday and the Ambrosian one from Thursday to Saturday before the first Sunday of Lent. This means that the dates of the carnival are directly related to Easter and therefore shift. Although we are used to associating the month of February with carnival, it can happen that when Easter is late, carnival falls at the beginning of March. But why is it celebrated? Although many traditions have now changed, this used to be a time when people went to excess before the renunciation and fasting imposed by Lent. In Ticino society, which was rural until the mid-20th century, this meant above all eating more sumptuously. The Thursday before Ash Wednesday was the last day of slaughtering, and all products had to be eaten before Lent began, both the meat and the fat: for this reason, tortelli (choux buns) and chiacchiere (carnival pancakes) were prepared for carnival.


In Ticino, the start of the festivities was announced as loudly as possible. The boys hung cowbells around their necks and ran up and down the village to announce the carnival. A tradition that has almost completely disappeared today. Other typical aspects of Ticino's carnival include games and entertainment such as bingo, the palo della cuccagna (a kind of maypole), children climbing up the pole (the palo) to win juicy prizes, dances and masquerade parades. The satirical newspapers typical during this period are also not to be missed. And of course, gastronomy plays a central role: risotto and luganighe (Ticino sausage speciality) are the traditional dishes that are usually offered free of charge during the celebrations. 

Another peculiarity of the Ticino carnival tradition is the handing over of the key of the city to the carnival king and queen (with the exception of Chiasso, which becomes a Free Republic with a prime minister), who are in charge of the festivities. The Stranociada of Locarno, for example, is the reign of King Pardo II. The name of the carnival in the old town says it all: the night when not a wink is slept. Traditionally, everything starts on Friday evening with the Guggenmusik concerts (Carnival marching band). At one o'clock in the morning, the awards ceremony and the parade take place on the Piazza San Antonino, where people meet for risotto on Saturday. At the Carnival with Risotto in Ascona, which takes place on Shrove Tuesday, the masks parade through the village and along the lake promenade. This carnival has become famous thanks to the free risotto on the piazza by the lake, which is popular with locals and tourists alike. In Brissago, where celebrations are held according to the Ambrosian rite, the Carnival of King Pitoc has retained many old traditions: The festivities are announced by children going from house to house to announce the beginning of the carnival, and end on the first Sunday of Lent with the burning of the straw doll. But these are just a few of the many carnival events in the region. For the sociable people of Ticino, it is customary to be present at as many of these festivals as possible.

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