A Venetian Thanksgiving: My journal of the Festa della Salute

Scirocco clouds in the morning brought in acqua alta - 25 November, Festa della Salute
There is one day in the year when Venetians reconnect with the past, when for a week or so, a fifth bridge is spanning the Grand Canal and a special ancient boat is moored at Punta della Dogana, bringing back memories of hardship. All is there to celebrate the Venetian meaning of Thanksgiving: 
This ponton bridge is called "Ponte della Salute", and it is made to facilitate crossing the Grand Canal on the dearest festive day of Venetians: La Festa della Salute, taking place on 21 November. Venetians on that day celebrate la salute (health), that is the health and very existance of their city, but also their own health and that of their families and loved ones. And they have been doing precisely that since the year 1630 when Venice overcame the grips of the plague. This age-old Venetian day of festa della Salute means so much to us, even "more than Christmas and Easter put together".
Edicola on the facade of Gritti Palace hotel facing the Grand Canalo on the Campo Santa Maria del Giglio side; the ponton bridge ...
The ponton bridge is called "Ponte della Salute" and stays in place for six days
View from under the Salute bridge on the Grand Canal: The water puddles you see are not abundant rain fall, but this is actually acqua alta, hitting one spot rather than the other as Venice is rather unlevel
So on that morning, the whole town is on its way to the Church, and also many Venetians come in from the mainland (terraferma). Some even come by boat, using small regata boats ... rowing right towards the Church ...
Going to church by boat
In the morning, acqua alta rose again, with the peak expected for high tide at 12:30, which meant that in case the water rose above level 1.10 meters, the Ponte della Salute would have to close .. as the ends of the bridge go down quite steep and could become slippery and inaccessible when wet .. but we were lucky and it didn't happen.
By now, the clouds open up .. here, the water takes on that characteristic winter hue .. it really is turquoise !!
Can you see the water level rising ..
From the wide open space of the Campo del Giglio we now arrive at the steep end of the bridge in narrow Calle del Tragheto ..
The end of the bridge, another mariegola leading us towards the Salute Church
On the other side of the Grand Canal, the first bancarelle where you can buy long white candles were set up on Campo San Gregorio, just one sotoportego (archway) away from the Church.
Campo San Gregorio, where we bought the white candles this year - one is EUR 3, a shorter one is EUR 2
And now it is just a few more steps, crossing a narrow archway and bridge, and this is how one arrives directly at the Church.
Cross the Ponte di San Gregorio which leads into Campo della Salute ..
The Venetian patriarch is holding the sermon, there are television screens hung up for all of us to watch .. this mass starts at 10:00 am, but there are many more services celebrated on that day.
And in the meantime, people hand over their long white candles to be put up amongst hundreds of others .. lightening up the church on this particular day - una foresta di candele bianche ..
People approach and hand over their candles
Finding space for all candles 
Bright candles and very bright eyes
When we came out of the Church, the weather had changed: The air is mild, the sky is pale blue and the sun rays warm up as the day is almost without wind, and the color of the water in the canal next to the church turns turquoise. Autumnly colored reddish leaves light up in the sun ..
The clouds are disappearing fast ..the acqua alta does not ..
Next to the church is a little pool - it is one of my favorite spots in Venice
Traditionally, Venetians then walk on - towards the Rio Tera dei Catecumeni, where on that day, bancarelle (stalls) with sweet delights are put up. You can read about that topic on my Blog on Venetian Food, Le Spezie della Serenissima.
The American vines on the facade of Ca' Maria Adele are turing reddish, here we look back towards the Grand Canal and the Ponte di San Gregorio from where many more Venetians arrive to visit the Church
Looking back towards the church with the flag of San Marco
Childern's delight and colorful part of the feast on Rio Terà dei Catecumeni
If you take Calle dello Squero from here, you reach the Zattere quais in 2 minutes ..
But it is also tradition for Venetian children to receive gifts, in particular one of these fabulous balloons that take the form of animals .. and of course frutta caramelizzata, in particular mele (apples) that are glazed with a deep red. Also, the Venetian kraffen and fritole are sold here .. plus almond and pistacchio pastries, flavored with citrus fruits that now ripen in late autumn in Southern Italy. The vendors of these delights come from the Veneto but also from farther south.
Caramelized fruit, torroni and chocolate salami (made of biscuits and cocoa)
All varieties of almonds ..
Almond and pistacchio pastries ..
So in a way, this is also the Thanksgiving Day of Venice, but in a very particular manner: in the first place, it is gratitude for health, which is of course celebrated by the rich harvest and fruit brought into town, amongst others, exposed here at the stands. But take a look at the Rialto market now and its great selection of local herbs and salads: The saying goes that dopo le prime gelate - after the first frosts, the selection of vegetables for winter is at its peak now in winter.
Instead of going for our usual way, this year we turn back, walk past the Church in the sun (now at noon, the water is all but retreating, and we hear the wailing tune of the siren warning Venetians that high tide is imminent).
Walking past the church, where other stands sell the white candles, towards Punta della Dogana ..
Acqua alta ..
Despite the water rising and spilling over onto the quais (fondamenta), we continue walking towards Punta della Dogana, where on that day, a very special boat is moored: il trabaccolo. It is actually the last of its kind still available: it was these boats that brought in smoked mutton meat from the Dalmatian coasts, before the city closed its borders, both towards sea and the land, to protect against the plague in 1630. During those strenuous days, Venetians ate a sort of Balkan ciorba soup - la castradina, made of bits of smoked mutton, pepper corns and verza sofogà.
This sort of boat brought in the mutton - the last food from outside before the city closed down
People were invited on board to taste the castradina
Also, TV reporters are here to film how castradina is prepared on board. You can even make out the special mask that doctors used to wear in the 17th century to protect themselves from contagion. In these voluminous "beaks" (becco) of the white mask, herbs were arranged to fight off bacteria. And also now, boatsmen were burning bunches of dried rosemary and juniper before the guests .. in remembrance of those days when Venice was not healthy at all but was saved nevertheless.
The mask into which the herbs were placed to save doctors from contagion
Then comes the part of tasting castradina for ourselves ... but that was not so easy. When we intended to approach home, it turned out we had to "meander" through town to avoid acqua alta. First I had to take Rio tera Assassini as Calle della Mandorla was under water, then again turn back from Campo San Fantin and take the thoroughway towards Frezzeria. Venice is not really level - so when you walk on a major street and just take a look into side streets, you can often see them under water while you keep on walking on dry space.
Calle della Mandorla went "under" - you can see the water approaching in the distance
And 21 November was such a day .. Piazza San Marco was also under water at noon and in the early afternoon, while the small pool just behind the Piazza where the gondolas "go to sleep" (this is how I think of Bacino Orseolo) was dry enough for us to walk across towards Trattoria Al Giardinetto .. Here, many Venetian families from the neighborhood gathered to celebrate the Festa della Salute day.
Acqua alta in Piazza
Early afternoon reflections - Bacino Orseolo, right behind the Piazza it is dry enough to cross
A plate of castradina (Trattoria Al Giardinetto da Severino)
So we enjoyed the hot soup-like dish of castradina first, but also a torta veneziana (the chocolate cake I described in my blog Colazione a Venezia) to celebrate the day. BTW: Al Giardinetto opened despite it was Thursday, that is its weekly closure day, but the owner assured me, this is by far la festa più sentita di Venezia ..
Torta veneziana - with a festive touch (Trattoria al Giardinetto)