This past week Italians celebrated Carnevale, a softer version of Halloween with better sweets. Celebrated on Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), the February holiday is an excuse for kids to dress up in costume, and to party during a cold month when everyone's ready for the rain to stop and the sun to shine. In Venice, fancy masquerade balls pervade the Grand Canal. In Rome, kids skip to school as pirates, fairies, princesses, and Super Heroes. They sprinkle colorful confetti all over the streets which are then ignored by garbage trucks. Romans moan about the caloric content of the fried dough and doughnut holes that accompany morning and afternoon coffee all week long at cafes and restaurants -- yet few turn them down. There's not supposed to be anything scarey about Carnevale except tighter jeans after a week of fried "frappe" and "chiacchere."
My kids' costume closet has quite a big selection after seven years of trick-or-treating, and four of those doubled with Israel's similar dress-up feast, Purim. Although the temptation to dress up as Peppa Pig's brother George was magnetic for Sofia this year, she settled happily with disguising herself as a pirate. Her accessory was a mask that her brother insisted upon having two years ago, of a Skeleton Pirate with painted blood dripping from its lip. Luca, on the other hand, opted for the glow-in-the-dark skeleton with a knife through his head, a toned-down version of last year's Zombie costume.
My husband took one look at both children in their costumes, both of which had already been debuted in years past (in different countries), and posed the following question: "Don't you think these costumes are inappropriate? Won't the teachers be upset about them?"
In the context of Italy, these provocative, in-your-face costumes stand out more than at Halloween celebrations where the tendency was to flaunt not flinch.
Yet his reaction reminded me of the role played in Italian society of the prevalent, unspoken dress code of all finely-dressed Italians (even plumbers show up here in ironed shirts). In Rome, the daily common palette consists of black, brown, navy blue and beige -- among adults and children.
Carnevale is the day when Italian children finally stray from the norm, and branch beyond the uniform of autumnal tones. Colors come out of the closet, and children finally dress up the way they probably always want to but don't.
While I am used to colorful Patagonia parkas ranging from fuchsia to spearmint green, the winter racks here offer 50 shades of grey. My children are walking traffic lights at their school in their vibrant parkas, flashy sneakers with fluorescent laces, sparkling rain boots, and patterned backpacks.
And so you can imagine how they stood out at Carnevale as The Devil Children next to The Disney Dozen. They loved it -- and so did I.