The Offida Carnival’s origins are lost in the past. They go back to the religious feasts of ancient populations celebrating the New Year and the beginning of spring for propitiatory purposes. Every year this Carnival follows the same calendar as tradition dictates: it officially opens on 17th January, St. Anthony’s Day.
The last two Sundays before the Carnival week are devoted to friends and relatives, while the Saturdays are animated by joyful night-long parties held within the Serpent Aureo Theatre, the children’s masked party on Shrove Thursday, “Lu Bov Fint” (The fake ox corrida) on Shrove Friday and the extraordinary parade of “The Vlurd” on Tuesday, the last day.
Local people and visitors come to Offida Carnival not to passively admire elegant float parades but to get completely involved in an authentic folk feast where rules and local conventions are put aside, enjoyment is compulsory, as if everyone was an actor whose symbolic performances unfold the most vital and instinctive forces.
The most typical mask is the “guazzarò” (a white linen tunic to be worn with a red neckerchief).
A very important role is played by the so-called Congreghe, masked music groups which enliven the local carnival with short farces about virility and fertility.
In the past, Shrove Thursday was the day in which some members of the Carnival committee used to pay an early afternoon visit to the infertile couples of the town and bring them elder twigs; a joke accepted following the spirit of this particular occasion. Nowadays this tradition has been replaced by the Children’s fancy dress party which takes place in the afternoon at the Serpent Aureo Theatre and where children parade in their fancy dresses, dance and have fun.
Moreover, in the morning the “Town Key Entrustment” ceremony takes place at the Council Chamber during which the Mayor entrusts the town keys to the members of a ‘congrega’, meaning that from that moment on, till the end of Carnival, the town will be symbolically in their hands.
Thursday evening is entirely dedicated to enjoyment, with convivial banquets, music, dancing till late night, in an atmosphere of happiness and light-heartedness.
LU “BOV FINT” (FAKE BULL)
Offida Carnival is mostly characterized by the feast of Lu Bov Fint (dialect name for a fake ox) consisting of a fictitious bullfight. Notwithstanding time, this feast still holds its profound feature of folk inspiration
It takes place on the Friday before Lent and it is a very ancient tradition recalling the bullfights brought by the Spanish dominion. It consists of driving a fake bull, made of a wooden frame covered with a white and red cloth, through the streets of the town. A man makes the bull run from under the frame, while another one drives it from the outside.
The bullfight is followed by a crowd of running people wearing the guazzarò or the typical bullfighter cloth. The feast starts in the afternoon from Cappuccini district to arrive at Piazza del Popolo. It is possible to eat and drink at the several refreshing stopovers spread along the way.
Once in the square, in the evening, the bull is slaughtered in front of the town hall and then carried away while people sing “Addio Ninetta Addio”, an old traditional song.
On Friday morning, lu Bov Fint takes place in a smaller scale for the children and students of the local comprehensive school.
The first relevant historical entry of the burning of canes dates from 1814, according to an article by Guglielmo Allevi published in the “Ophys” review on 3rd March 1895.
This feast takes place on Shrove Tuesday evening, when big bundies of reeds and straw (Vlurd) are given fire and carried through the streets.
The parade starts from Piazza XX Settembre, led by the Ciorpento band playing “Addio Ninetta Addio” being the traditional carnival hymn. Hundreds of people in costume carry the canes on their shoulders, among cries of joy and unbridled dances, through the high street which clearly recalls the shape of a glowing snake. The parade ends in the main square where the canes are thrown forming an enormous bonfire around which people in costume dance and sing until it extinguishes.
The extinguishing of fire is a metaphor of the end of Carnival and the beginning of Lent.
They are a peculiarity of Offida Carnival and they traditionally take place inside the Serpente Aureo Theatre.
There are three main appointments: Saturday night is dedicated to the gala ball; on Sunday there is the masked ball, with the parade on stage of fancy-dressed groups, performing very ironic and funny gags; on Monday there is the last party during which the Congreghe meet inside the theatre, following their foundation order. This is a long lasting tradition according to which in the past a little music band entered the theatre at midnight to wish everybody to have fun and to remind them that Carnival was almost coming to an end. Another important event of the Monday party is the election of the Carnival Queen and of Mister Broccolo
They are masked groups which aggregate relatives and friends and enliven with their brass bands all the Carnival events.
They open the Carnival on 17th January, St Antonio’s Day, meeting along the narrow streets of the town centre to start celebrating.
Every street becomes the ideal place where to meet and play. The celebration of the Carnival continues on the two Sundays preceding the Carnival week, the former devoted to friends, the latter to relatives, until the official Carnival week starts on Shrove Thursday, on which day the Mayor of Offida chooses one of the congreghe to give the keys of the town to. From that moment on Offida is symbolically in their hands.