The whole city is busy today in preparation for the Festival, most obvious along the waterfront on both sides of the Giudecca, and also in Castello and Sant'Elena. This morning as I walked through Castello people were bringing tables and chairs out into the street and stringing lights from one side of the street to the other. On Sant'Elena, people had chairs and tables along the waterfront, and restaurants had moved all their tables outside and strung lights and paper lanterns. I passed people washing and cleaning buckets of mussels and clams for part of the big dinner tonight. There is quite a party atmosphere in the air !
Festa del Redentore (Feast of the Redeemer) is one of the oldest and most loved festivals celebrated in Venice. It dates back to 1577 when the celebration began to honor the deliverance of Venice from the ravages of the plague. Back in those days, pilgrims crossed a bridge made of boats tied together to get across the Giudecca canal to attend a special mass. Today, the city constructs a 330 meter temporary pontoon bridge, which opens at 7pm Saturday evening when the Patriarch of Venice, the mayor and other dignitaries officially open the bridge with a blessing. Immediately following the parade of people across the bridge is a special mass in the Church of the Redentore.
Thousands of Venetians and tourists alike will gather both in the lagoon in decorated boats, and along both banks of the Giudecca canal to eat and celebrate, waiting for fireworks to begin at 11:30 pm. Food plays a huge part of the Redentore celebration, with everyone eating traditional dishes including Sarde in saor (fried sardines in marinated onions), bovoletti (snails), tiramisu and watermelon.
In previous years I've crossed the bridge at 7pm and watched the fireworks from the steps of the Redentore church. Last year I had dinner with Caterina, my Venetian friend, her family and a few other friends at her family's squero (boat yard) on Giudecca. I've wanted to watch fireworks from a boat in the lagoon, but haven't figured out how I'd last several hours on a boat without bathroom facilities- so that one is still hovering on my "someday" list. And tonight, we are planning something a little bit different. We're going to be on the other side of the lagoon for a change, watching the fireworks from along the waterfront here on Sant'Elena.