For many villages in the valley, the carnival represents a moment of social cohesion, where most citizens are involved. There are two kinds of traditional carnival: historical and ritual.
The historical carnival recalls past events and situations.
The most important celebrations occur in the following places:
- Verres, where an interesting XVcentury situation is recalled: Earl Francois de Challant bequeathed his feud to his daughter Catherine, against the rules of the time, as he had no sons. His relatives contested his will in front of the Earl of Savoy and attacked Catherine. The countess, in order to protect herself, tried to gain the people’s support, participating to a popular ball with her husband Pierre Sarriod, Earl of Introd, and then inviting everyone to her castle. Actually the end was prosaic (Catherine gave up her feud to new owners), however the carnival recalls the moment when the Countess opened the rooms of her castle to the people. For Verres citizens it is an honour to impersonate the main characters of the event. The programme of the celebration also includes a performance, in the castle hall, of the comedy “A game of Chess” by Giuseppe Giacosa;
- Pont-Saint-Martin, where, since 1910, historical recalls and echoes of ancient legends meet together. The historical part concerns the defeat of the Salassi by the Romans, giving the loser a chance of revenge in a match called “delle bighe”, that once again sets natives against invaders. Another part of the carnival is inspired by the legend of the nymph of the stream Lys. Angry with the inhabitants, she swelled the river in order to destroy the village, but, when the flood reached the roman bridge, it did no harm thanks to people’s prayers. On Shrove Thursday Eve, an effigy of the devil (by whom, according to another legend, the bridge was built) is hanged to the only arch of the bridge and burned with extraordinary effect. Playing the role of the nymph is, for the village girls, a privilege they will never forget;
- Nus, Quart and the Saint Martin neighborhood in Aosta: here, too, carnival recalls historical events of the Middle Ages and aristocratic characters of the respective areas.
On the other hand, ritual carnival is typical of the San Bernardo Valley, the so-called “Coumba freida” (“cold valley”, because of the cold wind that blows for most part of the year). Here the ritual of carnival includes the “benda” parade, a group of mask-characters of ancient origin, who visit the village houses, where they are welcome with sweets, local food and drinks. The main mask-characters are the following:
- “Gueda” or “ensign”, with moustache and glasses, that leads the procession, hoisting the carnival flag and playing a trumpet;
- “Harlequin” : usually dressed with colorful coat and trousers, decorated with mirrors and bells, he wears a top-hat with flowers and small mirrors and holds a tinkling stick in his hand;
- the “Maid of Honour”: Harlequin’s companion in the parade, a young female character, whose role was once played by a man; she wears a smart dress, enriched with embroidery, braids and laces;
- “Landzettes”: their costumes are in different colors, depending on the village (for example, in Doues and Allein they are red), and are decorated with mirrors and small pearls; they wear a Napoleonic-style hat, a mask (once wooden, today plastic), a belt with bells and hold a horse tail in their hands. According to some people, these characters have been inspired by the Napoleonic Army that, in 1800 crossed the Gran S. Bernardo mountain pass, directed to Marengo;
- The Bear, symbol of nature’s awakening from a long winter sleep; in a few “bende” parades, there are also small bears, obviously interpreted by children;
- “Lo Diablo” (the devil): strictly wearing a red cloak, mask, horns and pitchfork, he is a symbol of strength and vigour;
- “Lo Toc” and “La Toca”: they represent a couple of simpletons. Traditionally, carnival began with a particular marriage: as the couple was very poor, their guests turned up oddly dressed, in order to avoid the couple’s embarrassment.
The town of Saint-Vincent is peculiar: during the carnival period, children take care of some administrative jobs; income from their fines are given to charity.
Moreover, snow-carnivals are organized in some of the Valley’s skiing resorts.
Courtesy of the Regione Valle d’Aosta