The Carnival in the Province of Vercelli
This Carnival celebration is one of the most renowned in the Vercelli province and throughout Piedmont. The most typical characteristic of the Carnevale di Borgosesia - the Mercû Scûrot - first occurred in 1854 when a group of merrymakers did not want the fun to stop. On that day, elegant men held a sort of "funeral” for Carnival on Ash Wednesday, and accompanied a casket containing a straw puppet representing Carnival through the streets of the Borgo.
The next year, the puppet was named "Peru Magunella”: the first name derived from a dialectal pronunciation of the patron saint’s name (Saint Peter) and the second name came from "Magoni”, the nickname used to identify people from Borgosesia. Only 30 years later, a person began to interpret the puppet and they also found the puppet a wife, called"Gin Fiammàa”. The Mercû Scûrot, considered to be a unique event in Europe, is held on Ash Wednesday, the day on which the Borgosesia Carnival finishes traditionally, unlike the other celebrations in surrounding towns, which end on Shrove Tuesday. According to tradition, in 1854 at the end of the Carnival celebrations, a group of German and Alsatian businessmen employed at a wool factory founded a few years prior - the first nucleus of what would evolve into Manifattura Lane Borgosesia - were unhappy that the celebrations were over, and decided to have a funeral for the festivity on the morning of Ash Wednesday. Dressed elegantly, they paraded a fake casket through the town in an improvised funeral procession and stopped for a drink in the osterie.
This tradition still continues today. Participants dress up in top hats and capes and carry wooden ladles that they use to drink wine that is distributed in specific locations along the procession route. They start their walk after lunch, and end the procession with a reading of the last will and testament of Peru Magunella. Then, they burn the puppet for good luck.
Carnevale di Crescentino
The masks of the historical celebration Carnevale Storico Crescentinese, which has taken place since 1929, are "Regina Papetta” and "Conte Tizzoni”, who are crowned according to a particular rite on the day before the parade of allegorical floats. This Carnival tradition is linked to an actual event that happened in 1529, when a group of young Crescentino citizens, allied with the city of Vische, rebelled against and killed their despot ruler, Count Riccardo IV Tizzoni.
The legend starts with historical facts: in the year 1529, Count Riccardo IV Tizzoni added to the oppression that he already subjected the people to by imposing the "ius primae noctis” law, or rather his right to sleep with brides on their wedding nights. During the night between 14 and 15 February 1529, as the town appeared to be quietly awaiting the last days of Carnival, the daughter of the miller from the Mulino Stella cut off the tyrant’s head as the people began a revolt signalled by the bell in the Torre Civica. According to tradition, the name "Papetta” derives from the maize (corn) used to make cornmeal for polenta, since the girl was the miller’s daughter. The festival ends with a masked parade featuring allegorical floats, musical bands, folkloric groups, majorettes and flag throwers.
Carnevale di Santhià
The Carnevale di Santhià is the oldest Carnival celebration in Piedmont. It was created by Abbadia, a lay association that used to organise dances and Carnival celebrations. The Abbadia is mentioned for the first time in a document dated 1338, but in the 15th century it was replaced by the Antica Società Fagiolesca, the predecessor of the current Comitato Carnevale.
Every year on 6 January, they open the celebrations: the main characters and rites connected with the event have maintained their significance over time. These are the characteristics of the Carnevale di Santhià, and they transform the festival into an essential event for that time of year.
The masks are Majutin dal Pampardù and Stevulin ‘dla Plisera, and they rule the city during the three-day celebration. According to legend, Stevulin and Majutin were two peasants, a farmer and his wife, who came to the city for their honeymoon. The local governor, with the townspeople’s consent, gave the keys to the city to the newly-weds and allowed them to administer justice and govern the city for three days. This fact is the origin of the modern "key ceremony”, after which Stevulin reads a speech to the population in the local dialect, which contains humoristic commentary about current events.
During the presentation ceremony of Stevu and Majot, the new couple receives the typical objects that make up their costumes: the "caplin”, the "cavagna”, the "umbrela” for him and the "spunciun, scusal and mantlin-a” for her, while the two actors from the previous year are inducted into the group of "Stevu e Majot Früst”.
Some of the most memorable moments and rites of this Carnival tradition include: the ancient rite of the Salamanda, in which a group of people dressed up like pigs form a procession in the city streets and distribute porchetta sandwiches; Italy’s largest fagiolata (bean festival) which involves distributing around 20,000 portions; the wake-up call at 5 am before the fagiolata, during which the Corpo Pifferi e Tamburi (one of the oldest and most important bands in Italy) starts playing at 5 o’clock to wake the townspeople up, especially the Piazza commanders who run the bean festival.
The final ceremony is the Rogo del Babciu, during which the papier-mâché puppet representing the essence of Carnival is burned and the statue of Ganduja is taken down from its throne.
Carnevale di Varallo
The Carnevale di Varallo, one of the city’s oldest traditions, is called the "day of the old Pasquetta” locally. It ends on the first day of Lent with the Processo al Marcantonio (Trial of Marcantonio, the main mask of the celebration).
The origins of this celebration date back to 1595, when a group of friars from the Sacro Monte di Varallo were discovered as they celebrated Carnival. Today, the masked group impersonating the spirit of Carnival consists of twelve people with two main characters, King Marcantonio and his wife, Cecca.
In the past "Pasquetta” symbolised Epiphany, and was celebrated with a large bonfire to welcome the new year. It was a festival to bury the past and invoke prosperity for the New Year and the start of Carnival. Over time, the popular tradition turned "Pasquetta” into the mother of Marcantonio and Carnival in general. This character is a perpetually fertile woman who, each year, is entrusted with birthing a new Carnival and a new child called Marcantonio, the King of the Dughi and Falchetti. The parade held each year on Epiphany features masks representing the "vecchio Bacucco”, Pasquetta’s husband, and the "Balia” (the wet nurse). Vecchio Bacucco is only Marcantonio’s nominal father, and this is the subject of the trial and bonfire for Pasquetta on the Mastallone.
Another unmissable event featured in the Varallo Carnival celebration is the "Gran Bal dla Cecca” dance held at the Teatro Civico. "Cecca” is the wife of Marcantonio, and the Queen of Carnival. Since 1950, tradition commands that Cecca is elected the night before the patron saint celebration, during the Gran Veglione di San Gaudenzio, and now she is chosen from one of the girls from Varallo, but her identity is kept secret until the night of the "Ballo della Cecca” dance. On Sunday, Marcantonio receives the keys to the city, and then later a parade with the Carnival masks lightens the atmosphere in the streets of Varallo.
Visitors should not miss the events on Shrove Monday, the "Giurnàa ‘dla leugna” and the "Bal ‘dla Lüm”. For this tradition, on this day, Varallesi from the Crevola frazione cross the bridge over the Sesia River to get wood from the inhabitants to cook the paniccia on the following day. The origin of this tradition is unclear, but the official reason is that in the past there was a sentence that had given the Varallesi a sort of feudal right over the community of Crevola. Now, this practice has become a custom. The day ends with a traditional dance called "Lum”, after the old stable lights that provided light during vigils of Valsesian mountain people. Now, it is a symbol of the Carnevale di Varallo. The dance dates back to 1876 when the Osteria del Lupo in Varallo Vecchio organised a dance for Carnival with rustic decorations, including iron "Lum” lamps to embellish the dining hall. Prizes are given during the evening for the best costume and the best masked group.
Tuesday celebrates traditional Paniccia, a nutritious soup with rice and vegetables prepared in enormous pots, which at one time was the only guarantee of a hot meal for the poor and needy. Tradition commands that the fires be lit at 6 AM in Piazza San Carlo.
These Carnival celebrations conclude with the Processo al Marcantonio (Trial of Marcantonio), and the bonfire on the evening of Ash Wednesday, with a performance that makes fun of the most important news of the city.
Carnevale di Vercelli
The Carnevale di Vercelli has become an important celebration, well-known even outside the region. It starts with the presentation of the main masks of Vercelli, "Bicciolano” and his consort "Bela Majin”, and amid evening celebrations, bean festivals in the city rioni, and children’s dances, the most important moment of Carnival finally arrives: the parade with floats and groups of people in costume.
The story of the Bicciolano mask dates back to the end of the 1700s, when the French Revolution was coming to Piedmont. Vercelli was governed by a rich untouchable ruling class that imposed taxes and duties for personal reasons. In defence of the people, Carlin Belletti (nicknamed "il Bicciolano”) a legendary figure at the time, started a protest. Imprisoned by the powerful rulers in the castle of Ivrea, Belletti was freed and then returned to Vercelli in triumph. His name went down in history linked with the ideals of justice and equality.
The most important events of Carnival - after the proclamation of the "Bela Majin” - are the arrival of Bicciolano and his consort, with the symbolic Key Ceremony and the parade of allegorical floats. These unique moments contain the true spirit of Carnival and, for this reason, feature the participation of several Carnival committees from all over the province. This popular event records an increase in the number of visitors every year, because people want to enjoy this happy, carefree time of year in which everything is possible.
Bicciolano has been included in the list of official masks of the Associazione Centro Coordinamento Maschere Italiane.