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Fall Festivals in Venice

Autumn is the season when Venetians have traditionally walked on water--and when we say that, we aren't referring to the acqua alta, or "high water," which occurs when tides and storms on the Adriatic cause flooding in low-lying areas of the city such as St. Mark's Square. Rather, we're talking about two festivals in November:

Nov. 1: All Saints' Day

In the United States, All Saints' Day is all but forgotten. Most people think of it (if they think of it at all) as the day after Halloween.

In Catholic Europe, however, All Saints' Day is an important occasion--rather like Memorial Day in the U.S., but with religious overtones.

The Catholic mass for All Saints' Day includes the prayer:

"Today we keep the festival of your holy city, the heavenly Jerusalem, our mother. Around your throne the saints, our brothers and sisters, sing your praise for ever. Their glory fills us with joy, and their communion with us in your church gives us inspiration and strength as we hasten on our pilgrimage of faith, eager to meet them."

The "saints" of the prayers aren't the usual religious celebrities (the ones who get churches named after them), but are ordinary people--grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters, childen, and others who have made their way to the heavenly throne cited in the mass.

Venice San Michele Cemetery photoIn Venice, families traditionally crossed a pontoon bridge to the island cemetery of San Michele (see photo) to place flowers on the graves of their saintly or secular relatives. Today, they make the trip by vaporetto or water taxi, but the idea is the same: to honor the dead and keep in touch with the loved ones they expect to see in the hereafter.

Before you conclude that All Saints' Day is too depressing for a tourist to enjoy, consider this statement from the Venice Port Authority's old WetVenice site:

"As a counterpoint to the sadness of this day dedicated to the dead, there's an appealing tradition which decrees that each lover give his lass a bag of fave: small bean-shaped, coloured pastries."

So, if you're in Venice on November 1, you don't need to leave flowers at the cemetery--but don't forget to give fave to your fave!

Nov. 21: Feast of Santa Maria della Salute

Venice Salute Church photoBack in 1630, Venetians were dying by the thousands in a plague epidemic. The city fathers prayed for divine intervention, promising to build a church in honor of the Virgin Mary if God would switch off the plague.

Within weeks, the epidemic faded away, and the massive Santa Maria della Salute Church was built to fulfill the Venetians' side of the bargain.

Today, more than 375 years later, city workers still lay a footbridge built on pontoon boats across the Grand Canal every November 21. The bridge leads from the San Marco quarter to the steps of the Salute Church, where the main doors are opened--as they are just once a year--to receive the masses for mass.

The faithful light candles in front of the church, while Catholics and heathen tourists alike enjoy mutton and frittele veneziana (fritters stuffed with pine nuts or raisins) during this very popular festival.

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