Italian Culture for Global Children – Carnevale, Easter and other Holidays and Events

You may have noticed from reading my posts, that although I have spent time researching and procuring books and innovative materials to help support my children’s interest in languages, I am also a firm believer in regularly immersing them in cultural activities. I strongly believe that language learning should be relevant for children. You can make their language acquisition relevant by engaging them in fun, interactive activities and giving them the opportunity to practice their “new” words and expressions during different times of the year and in varied environments. You should also provide them with historical background and a framework to help them remember their “new” words more easily.

Columbus Day

Columbus Day Parade

One way to go about this undertaking is to keep your finger on the pulse of annual cultural events that take place around certain holidays or during certain seasons. Although my children do not speak Italian, continuous exposure to one of their heritage countries’ customs is high on our list of priorities. Accordingly, whenever we have an opportunity to attend an Italian cultural event, we do. We have marched in the NYC Columbus Day Parade on 5th Avenue, attended  language lessons at our public library co-hosted by CampItlalia and New York Italians (See Fun Events that Complement Language Learning) and participated in UNICO’s Italian Heritage Summer Picnic. These types of events are great venues for children to learn about history and geography; language and customs; and foods and desserts.

Fun and friendly children's competitions at UNICO picnic

Fun and friendly children’s competitions at UNICO picnic


Kids learning Italian in a fun CampItalia lesson at the public library! Photo courtesy of CampItalia









Carnevale in Italy

This year, I also attended a “Carnevale” event hosted by Long Island Italians, a chapter of New York Italians. This non-profit organization kicked off the Easter season with a social and informative event. Although the event was too late in the evening for my children to attend, I shared with them what I observed and learned that night and spoke to them about the history of Carnevale.  They were intrigued, more so, because of the timeliness of the “lesson”. Some of the tidbits they enjoyed hearing about:

Carnavale Masks

Carnevale Masks. Photo courtesy of Long Island Italians

  • Origin of the Word – Carnevale comes from the Italian “carne’ (meat) + ‘levare’ (to remove or take away).
  • Carnevale was first celebrated in the 12th century in the northern city of Italy called Venezia.
  • The entire city becomes a stage and residents, visitors, actors, acrobats, and musicians wear elaborate masks and elegant costumes.
  • Carnevale was especially fun because the masks allowed all people to be equal: a poor peasant could be mistaken for royalty when faces are covered by masks.

Easter in Italy

In Italy, on Palm Sunday, one week before Easter Sunday, many children create gifts for family and friends made from the palms brought home from Palm Sunday services. Italian children, like children in America, also dye Easter eggs. They make their own natural dye from red onion skins. Rather than placing the eggs in baskets, they are placed in or on bread braids to add color to the Easter desserts. Some of the dyed eggs come out after the Easter meal for children to play games with.

Children in Italy are not familiar with the Easter bunny, as the concept of the Easter Bunny that American children know was actually brought to the United States by the Germans in the 1700’s. Italian children, like their American counterparts, also receive elaborate chocolate Easter eggs with treats inside as gifts from their parents and family members.

If your children are studying Italian, are of Italian heritage, or just want to learn more about Italy and its culture, seek out these types of free and fun events in or near your community.  Below are some places you could begin:

  • CampItlalia continues to host additional free library events in neighboring communities in Long Island, NY  and is partnering with other Italian organizations in the Northeast Region to promote the Italian language and culture. CampItalia also offers an enriching, lively, well-rounded Italian summer camp program. Children practice speaking Italian and learn about aspects of Italian life, traditions, music, and history. This program is structured according to age groups and is ideal for children between the ages of 4 and 12. Click here for program details.
  • UNICO has 20 active chapters across the United States, and
  • New York Italians is branching out and developing chapters across the United States, too!

Buona Pasqua a tutti!!



Fun Events That Complement Language Learning

Children typically enjoy an outing that is stimulating and fun, and when you add the element of language and culture, it becomes so much more memorable.

Libraries are a fabulous source for this type of learning experience. Families with children who are learning Mandarin, for example, should take a trip to the neighborhood library in a community infused with Asian culture, custom and food. Such libraries regularly offer Shadow Puppet Shows, Shadow Puppet Making, Chinese theater and other free programs that transport children to a far away place and provide them with the opportunity to walk away with a memorable and enriching experience. Organizations comparable to the New York Chinese Cultural Center (NYCCC) also offer amazing programs for children.

New York Italians (, a non-profit organization and CampItalia, an Italian learning and cultural organization co-sponsored a free Italian class at a Long Island library that captured children’s attention, taught them words and fun phrases and then topped the event with a chance to put their newly learned phrases to work by playing a fun-filled and exciting game of Italian Bingo (Tombola)!!

Learning the Italian language and culture.

Learning the Italian language and culture.

Playing Tombola (Bingo) with words and phrases!

Playing Tombola (Bingo) with words and phrases!

Some renowned cultural and language institutes have created children’s programs and offer an “Open House” at their location once or twice a year. They offer free 45 minute lessons, time for the children to socialize and play with other children and have some cookies and drinks to boot. I find that children have a wonderful experience at these events and don’t think twice about why they might be there. While the children play and learn, parents can pick up information, ask questions and observe. If your child is already taking language lessons, attending this type of event not only reinforces what he has learned, but it exposes him to different people who speak the language by meeting new teachers and other students. It helps demonstrate to the child that the language he is studying is not spoken only at home and at his language school, but that others are speaking it too and having fun while doing so! An Open House is the ideal way for parents who are in the early stages of considering introducing their children to world languages to determine which language and whether the pedagogical style of the organization suits their child’s developmental stage and interests.

Also key, is the need to attend these events on a regular basis. Once a year is clearly not enough. Our family enjoys attending these types of events quarterly. Take some time to research your options and calendar them early on so that you and your children could enjoy these stimulating and fun events that complement their language learning.

Buon divertimento!!!

Photos provided by CampItalia