Celebrate like a Venetian!

Emily Ng

Emily Ng


When talking about Venetian festivals, the first thought at all times is always the world famous Carnival of Venice each February. Thousands of visitors will wear sumptuous masks and ornate costumes to parade in the city during the festival. Traveling Venice during its annual Carnival definitely has all the captivating charm, but be prepared to jam in the narrow streets and squares in the week-long events. If you would like to escape from making ways through the packed crowd while experiencing the Venetian festival magic, you may want to plan your Venice trip during the low season.

During my internship starting late October till early December I experienced two least touristy yet amazing festivals which are celebrated mostly by local Venetians:

San Martino Day, 11 November

San Martino Day

(Source from: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/75/Louis_Anselme_Longa%2C_La_charit%C3%A9_de_saint_Martin.jpg/607px-Louis_Anselme_Longa%2C_La_charit%C3%A9_de_saint_Martin.jpg )

Religion is a great influence in Italy especially Christianity as it is the official region in Italy. According to local Italians, there are especially a lot of traditional celebrations dedicated to Saints of the Roman Catholic religion in Venice. On the 11th of November, Italian celebrates a Roman Empire soldier San Martino, who became a Saint for his generosity for sharing his military cloak to a beggar.

In Venice, the local celebrates the festival with two traditional sweets which you can be easily get in any bakeries – and surely we got ours too! If you have a sweet tooth, I am sure you are going to love these –

(Left) A pastry cake shaped like the saint on horseback, decorated with colourful sweets, icing and chocolates on top. 
(Right) Quince jelly cake.

In the late afternoon, there is a particular tradition in Venice where kids go around the city making sound with pots and pans, asking for candies and singing the festive rhyme in Venetian as below:

San Martin xe nda’ in soffita (San Martino has gone to the attic)
a trovar nonna Rita. (to find grandma Rita.)
Nonna Rita no ghe gera, (Grandma Rita wasn’t there,)
San Martin col cuo par tera. (San Martino with his butt on the floor.)
Ecol nostro sacchetin, (And with our little bag,)
cari signori xe San Martin. (dear sirs it’s San Martin!)
(Source from: https://mycornerofitaly.com/san-martino-day/)

We discovered that there were actually more kids asking for candies on San Martino Day than demanding trick-or-treat on Halloween, likely due to the official religion. You can have a glimpse of the kids chanting the saint’s praises around the city in the video below: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4OTKvP-iyk

And there was a family marching into the Hong Kong pavilion on San Martino Day asking us for candies too:

Festa della Madonna della Salute, 21 November

Festa della Madonna della Salute (English: Festival of the Madonna of Health) is another local religious festival we came across in November. This one is originated in 1630, during an outbreak of the plague in Venice. 1/3 of the population was killed until the city was declared plague-free in late 1631. By the end of the plague, the Republic of Venice decided to build a new church to thank Madonna, the Lady of Health for the deliverance of the city from the assault of the plague.

Santa Maria della Salute (English: Saint Mary of Health)

The Roman Catholic church, Santa Maria della Salute (English: Saint Mary of Health), was designed in baroque style by the major Venetian architect of 17th century Baldassare Longhena and construction was completed in 1681. According to our Venetian colleagues, Festa della Salute is a very important day to locals. Each year, a temporary bridge crossing the Grand Canal will be set up between San Moisè and Santa Maria del Giglio for 3 days, to allow the mass to make an easier way to the church.

We also went to the beautiful baroque church to join the annual Salute festival after work. Upon the arrival at the entrance, you will see many kiosks selling candles as there is a tradition of lighting long white candles in the church to give thanks to Madonna and pray for good health in the coming year.

Once I was inside the octagonal church, all eyes of the worshippers are on the high altar where the hourly mass was happening. Right in the centre of the high altar was the statue of Madonna. Unlike the solemn mass I attended earlier in Saint Mark’s Basilica, the mass felt holy yet festive. It is more like a celebration where you can see families and friends enjoying themselves a lot when singing hymns.

Santa Maria della Salute (English: Saint Mary of Health)Santa Maria della Salute (English: Saint Mary of Health)

One last exciting thing about the Festa della Madonna della Salute – the streets right behind the church are occupied with market stalls selling balloons for children, all kinds of sweet snacks. One of the most common food everyone is holding in their hands is called Frittelle, a tasty deep fried dough ball being coats in sugar and filled with Nutella. Perfect comfort food on a cold winter night!

Festa della Madonna della Salute

Although these two festivals are closely related to Christian culture, the celebrations are meant for everyone with or without religions to enjoy. Highly recommend for visitors who would like to have a taste of the localness of Venice!