The origins of Venice date back to the 7th century and since then the rich and poor, noble or humble Venetians have been united by some festivals that remind us that we were part of a much larger and more varied people than the present one.
The borders of the Republic of Venice reached as far as the Azov Sea and from every corner of our domain came people who brought customs and traditions that, at times, were absorbed as well as transformed by the Venetian culture.
Some feasts are of Roman origin, others Byzantine, others originated from events that have marked the history of this city.
Below is a short list of the most important festivals in Venice, seen from the point of view of a Venetian.
It is certainly the best-known Venetian festival in the world and the least loved by Venetians.
The first known celebration of the Venice Carnival dates back to 1094 and its duration and performance was regulated by the Senate of the Republic of Venice only in 1296.
The celebrations began in October and ended in Lent with a break for Christmas. Therefore, the Venetian Carnival was celebrated for almost three months a year.
In the 1700s, the Venice Carnival became famous all over the world and already at the time many tourists wandered around the city completely disguised, by those famous Venetian masks which have come to symbolize Carnival.
With the fall of the Republic in 1796, the Venice Carnival was forgotten and only around 1979 was it revived and celebrated by the Venetians alone. From the 1980s onwards, attempts were made to revive it in order to contrast the low tourist season.
Now there are strictly private lavish parties and many bars are popping up like mushrooms to quench the alcoholic craving of the hundreds of thousands of people who clog the streets of the city of Venice, while the Venetians try to take vacations in order to avoid the Venice Carnival. Unfortunately now the Carnival for the Venetians is a party for others, even the pastry shops often have problems as there are now stands in Piazza San Marco that sell pancakes of dubious quality and therefore the tourists are not even tempted to taste the traditional Carnival delicacies such as “frittelle ”and the“ galani ”to the detriment of the excellent local pastry shops.
More and more often those who are really missing from the Venice Carnival, famous for its masks, are the masks. For those who, like us, love this city it is sad to say this, but above all it is sad for us to see how the city is reduced during the revelry with an entire city reduced to a gigantic tourist trap. Fortunately, the modern Venice Carnival lasts about 5 weeks and the peak time is limited to less than a week.
Visiting Venice with us at Venice Kayak allows you to see this city avoiding the most crowded places even during the Carnival, in fact most people visit Venice walking through the streets and not paddling through the canals.
2. April 25 or the day of the Bòcolo:
For us Venetians it is the day of lovers. It is tradition that one offers one’s love a bud (the bòcolo to be precise) of a red rose, according to some if you give the rose but with a twisted stem full of thorns it means that it is a problematic love while if the stem is straight and without thorns the couple is having a perfect love or are going through a good time.
The tradition dates back to the Crusades when a young man had to leave for the front so that the girl’s father would grant him the hand of his daughter. Before leaving she gave him a white rose bud as a sign of fidelity and love, the boy carried it close to his heart, but the bud was stained with his blood when an arrow pierced him at the foot of the walls of Jerusalem. This sad love story is so deeply felt by Venetians that it was sculpted on the capital of one of the columns of the loggia of the Doge’s Palace. And still today, on April 25, you can see street florists in many fields selling only rose buds.
And when you see someone proudly wearing a rose, it’s not because they don’t have the money to buy a bouquet, but because they only have one love. If she has two or more roses, in separate packages, it means she also has daughters.
Obviously, there is also a religious festival or the feast of St. Mark, the patron saint of Venice, with solemn masses. However, it is also the anniversary of the Liberation from Nazi fascism. Religious processions intersect with political ones and among these processions you can see people running home with their bòcolo!
Therefore, this date, April 25th, is most felt as it combines sentimental passions with religious and political ones. For this reason, it is difficult to find a Venice Kayak guide available to take a tour for this date because whatever her or his situation is she or he has a reason to celebrate. Furthermore, according to tradition, duck must be prepared, there are different ways of cooking it, but cooking the duck in the traditional was is always long!
3. La Sensa or the marriage with the sea:
The Festa della Sensa is an ancient ceremony during which there is the
marriage between Venice and the Sea.
This festival dates back to the year 1000, or when Doge Pietro II Orseolo saved the Dalmatian population threatened by the Slavs. From that moment Dalmatia became part of the Venetian domains and thus began the history of Venice’s maritime power.
The ceremony involved the Doge getting on board the Bucintoro and, once he reached the Lido, threw a ring into the sea by saying in Latin: Desponsamus te, mare nostrum, in signum ven perpetuique dominii. Or “We marry you, our sea, as a sign of true and perpetual dominion”.
The current festival includes a colorful maritime procession in which all the rowing companies of Venice and Veneto and private citizens participate, but only if on board rowing boats, at the end of the procession there is a regatta, the Regata della Sensa.
In Venice there is a saying also linked to Sensa: If it rains on the feast of the Sensa for forty days it will rain.
We offer our customers the opportunity to follow the procession aboard our kayaks, of course together with one of our guides you can book through our site.
4. Festa del Redentore or The Feast of the Redeemer:
Festa del Redentore or the Feast of the Redeemer takes place on the Saturday of the week with the third Sunday of July. The San Marco basin and the Giudecca Canal are filled with boats decorated. There are so many boats that you can almost walk on them to go to the other shore.
The Venetians all look forward to the fires or the fireworks and in the meantime, they set up tables along the banks, having dinner by candlelight in total joy.
But why all this? And above all is it just this?
The origin of this festival dates back to 1577, or when the great pandemic/ first black plague ended and the Senate of the Republic of Venice decided to commemorate it every third Sunday in July with the construction of a temple, the church of the Redentore designed by Andrea Palladio, and a temporary bridge that connects Venice to Giudecca. On Sunday there is also a hard-fought regatta, in which competition reaches very high peaks also because it is one of the tests for the Historical Regatta.
We do not carry out tours neither on Saturdays nor on Sundays of the Redentore also because many of our guides are cooking in the kitchen, since we are not only excellent guides, but we are also excellent cooks intent on preparing the most typical dishes of the Venetian tradition , first of all sardines in sàor! If you are interested in participating in such an event please visit our sister company Classic Boats Venice.
For the festival of the Redentore they offer unique classic boats. Boats like Sweet Molly from 1938 equipped with an Amperretta hybrid drive and Jandona a one of a kind all wooden Italian yacht from 1968. If you are looking to drive sporty and in style for the festival go with their Riva Super Florida ‘Chiara’ or their Riva Rudy ‘San Mauro’. For more info visit their website at www.classicboatsvenice.com
5. Regatta Storica or Historical regatta:
This is the most important event for the rowing people of the entire lagoon which takes place on the first Sunday of September.
The word magnificent accurately describes the procession of historic boats that takes place along the Grand Canal which ideally pays homage to the return of Caterina Cornaro Queen of Cyprus to Venice in 1489 after she had abdicated her kingdom in favor of the Republic of Venice.
A large crowd stand along the banks of the Grand Canal, tourists and Venetians jostle to be able to see up close. Tourists do it to see the historical procession, the Venetians to watch the regatta that follows the procession.
From the point of view of a Venetian born and raised on a boat, I must admit that for me the most important part of the whole day is the regatta of the Venetian boats, 9 crews compete in each category:
• “le maciarele”, young people up to 14 years of age on a traditional Venetian rowing boat called a ‘mascarete’
• “le schie”, young people up to 10 years old, on a traditional Venetian rowing boat called a ‘mascarete’
• the very young on a rowing boat called a ‘puparini’
• Men on six-oared a traditional Venetian rowing boat called a ‘caorline’
• Women on two-oared ‘mascarete’
• Champions on a two-oared racing ‘gondolino’ or a racing gondola.
There are also other side regattas such as challenges between universities and others, but what fills my heart with joy is the fact that for days we talk about Venetian rowing as it once was, when everyone rowed and respected this art of rowing traditionally born from the lagoon of Venice.
6. San Martino:
Perhaps it is one of the most heartfelt holidays, especially by the little Venetians. On the occasion of the saint’s anniversary is on November 11, children wander around the shops of the city “beating” or playing improvised instruments (old pots, tin boxes) tied around their necks, or not, singing the song of San Martino.
The shopkeepers and passers-by wait for the children to finish the San Martino song and then give them money or sweets.
In the pastry shops or in the houses then you can find the sweet of San Martino which can be either quince or pastry and variously decorated. It is an intimate, almost familiar party that is celebrated mostly in the district where you live.
Unfortunately, this type of party is disappearing and that is why I want to leave the words of the “Saint Martin’s song” written for you all before it fades like the dew at the first light of the day:
San Martin xè andà in sofita
par trovar la so noviza
so noviza no ghe giera
San Martin xè andà par tera
rit.: e col nostro sachetin cari siori xe San Martin
Su ‘sta casa ghe xè do putele
tute risse e tute bele
col viseto delicato so papà ghe lo gà stampato.
E col nostro sachetin, ve cantemo el San Martin.
Siora Cate xè tanto bela
in mezo al peto la gà ‘na stela,
se no la gavesse maritada
so papà no ghe l’avaria dada.
rit.: e col nostro sachetin cari siori xe San Martin
Siora Lussia la fassa presto
ch’el caigo ne vien adosso,
el ne vien adosso sul scarselin,
siora Lussia xè San Martin.
Of course, in this period of confinement everything is different and there are no children wandering around the streets and courtyards singing at the top of their lungs, but in families they make shortbread cakes in the shape of St. Martin, they are decorated together by singing the song of Saint martin. Everything is subdued, but not the joy of giving a candy or a penny to a child, and not even the spirit of this special and familiar holiday.
7. La Salute:
In all likelihood this is the festival most felt by all Venetians. It is celebrated on November 21st and from the previous days an endless procession of thousands of people begins, in turn all the parishes of the Diocese of Venice recite the mass and there are so many that often several masses are celebrated at the same time from the various altars, in the middle to the faithful who listen to the masses a multitude of people offer a candle to the Black Madonna della Salute to ask for healing or grace.
This festival is celebrated starting from 1630, or the end of a terrible plague. It is still celebrated today in almost all that was once the territory of the Republic of Venice and in the houses a special dish is made, the preparation of which begins a month earlier: the Castradina.
It is a soup of cabbage and meat from the thigh of a mutton, the meat is spiced, smoked and then seasoned to be consumed after cooking for at least two days.
The order for the meat must take place at least 3 weeks in advance as the meat still arrives from Albania and the exact quantity must be ordered in time as it is prepared and eaten exclusively on the day of Our Lady of Health.
Tradition and history tell that during that terrible plague the meat of the castradina was the only one that could be consumed as it underwent such processing and seasoning that it could pass the quarantine period without problems.
On that day all of us of Venice Kayak and Classic Boats Venice will be closed and we will celebrate together as a family, a big family that loves the sea, boats and Venice. An open family that welcomes and does not push away, for which differences are a reason for union well aware that they bring elements of novelty. Maybe one day you too will sit with us at a large table with a plate that has a history dating back almost 400 years.
Looking for more ideas on what to do in Venice? Check this nicely crafted Venice Travel Guide by Kayak.com.
By: Giovanni Da Lozzo ‘Senior Guide’