The Carnival period in Livorno is supposedly shorter than in other parts of Italy because of a vow made to the Madonna in 1742 after a tidal wave hit the town. The Livornese promised to reduce the period of carnival festivities as thanks for being saved from the flood.
Carnival officially begins on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday which is the first day of Lent, the period lasting for 40 days, excluding Sundays, ending at the Easter period. Lent was traditionally a time of fasting, so carnival served as a time of festivity and indulgence preceding this. Before Christianity, the wearing of masks and merrymaking was thought to ward off evil spirits.
In practical terms, Carnival in Livorno for many people, especially children, means wearing fancy dress costumes – on sale everywhere before and during carnival – and throwing thousands of tiny paper coriandoli at everyone. You see them lying around on pavements for months afterwards! (hasn't anyone thought of a biodegradable version?) Spray cans of foam and ‘string’ are also popular. Out walking you will see even the tiniest of children dressed up for the occasion.
Traditional carnival sweets in Tuscany are Cenci, a very light flaky deep fried biscuit sprinkled with icing sugar.
Near Livorno, in Viareggio, one of Italy’s most famous carnival processions takes place, with five parades of huge allegorical floats on Sundays and Shrove Tuesday (martedì grasso) leading up to the beginning of Lent.
The 40 day fasting period of Lent is no longer observed in Italy, and since 1966 the Catholic faith prescribes no meat on Fridays during Lent, and fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday only.