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The Puglian town of Putignano, located near Bari in southern Italy, has staged its annual carnival since 1394 - making it one of the oldest town celebrations in Europe. But what sets Putignano apart from other Italian carnival events is not its age, but its duration. Starting on December 26th, the carnival ends on Shrove Tuesday, which means it can last for up to four months.
The carnival itself commemorates the removal of St Stephen's relics to Putignano in 1394, in an attempt to protect them from Turkish raiders. According to the legend, local people welcomed the relics with a celebration - smearing their faces with farinella (chick pea flour).
In modern times, the Putignano Carnival has become less sacred and more profane. Lead by the clown like figure of Farinella, local people use the carnival as a chance to mock public figures, creating large caricatures that they carry in a procession through the town.
Most of the major spectacles involved in the Putignano Carnival take place before Lent in January and February, making this the best time to visit. Three of the biggest town parades occur on the Sundays immediately preceding Lent, with the final event happening on Shrove Tuesday. All of the street parties offer a wild spectacle, with fantastic papier mache puppets, plenty of live music and huge crowds of local people.
During the carnival, specific days are also set aside for different groups of people in the city. There are party days for priests, for young people, for widows and married couples. Almost every day, some form of party takes place, with food and drink flowing.
Another important event takes place on Candlemass (February 2nd), when a local dressed as a bear is paraded through the streets. The bear must decide to hide in his den or stay out in the fresh air. As the legend goes, if the weather is fine, he hibernates because bad weather is on its way. If it's raining he stays out in the open as Spring is coming and the farmers can begin planting their crops.
However, every carnival must come to an end. The festival ends when priests from the town run through the streets with brooms, which they dip into (imitation) toilet bowls and use to sprinkle water on passers by. At the same time, they announce the "death" of the carnival - until next year.