Easter Italian Traditions
Every country has different traditions and now that Easter is approaching, we want to introduce you to some interesting Italian Easter celebrations. Pasqua is a very important holiday for Italians, being the second most important religious holiday after Christmas. This year, Pasqua will be held on March 27, 2016.
When did Easter (Pasqua) celebrations start?
The Nicean Council decided, in A.D. 325, that Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the Spring Equinox, unless the first full moon also rose on a Sunday, in which case Easter would be celebrated the Sunday after that. For over 1500 years we have continued to mark the celebration of Easter based on these calculations.
La Settimana Santa (Holy Week)
Holy Week starts the day after Palm Sunday and ends on Easter day; the main celebrations leading to Easter Sunday take place during three days on Holy Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Holy Thursday celebrates Jesus’ Last Supper with the Apostles. It is during this day that, as a symbolic reenactment of Christ’s actions, the priest washes the feet of twelve members of the community, to represent an ideal of humility and sacrifice.
Holy Friday is the day when the dead of Christ on the cross is remembered. In Catholic countries like Italy, a solemn mass is held at three in the afternoon (traditionally considered Christ’s time of death), where the Passion of Christ is celebrated. Typical is the reenactment of the Via Crucis, where many processions take place all over Italy. The one held in Rome by the Pope is always shown on national tv in Italy.
Holy Saturday is a moment of silence and reflection for the faithful. Mass is without choir or music and, mostly, without the Eucharist.
On Easter Sunday, full celebrations are on: many towns and villages have traditional exhibitions and commemorations held to honor the religious feast. Everywhere, of course, solemn mass is held.
Here some of the most interesting celebrations all over Italy:
Enna, in Sicily, has a large procession on Good Friday, with more than 2,000 participants dressed in ancient costumes. In Trapani, also in Sicily, their Good Friday procession, Misteri di Trapani, lasts 24 hours long and it is very dramatic.
The oldest Good Friday procession in Italy is in Chieti in the Abruzzo region and features the Selecchi’s Miserere played by 100 violins is very moving.
Sulmona, in Abruzzo as well, celebrates Easter Sunday with La Madonna Che Scappa in Piazza. On Easter Sunday people dress in green and white, colors of peace, hope, and resurrection, and gather in the main piazza. The woman playing the Virgin Mary is dressed in black. As she moves to the fountain, doves are released and the woman is suddenly dressed in green. Music and feasting follow.
Some towns, such as Montefalco and Gualdo Tadino in Umbria, hold live scenarios during the night of Good Friday or plays enacting the stations of the cross or Via Crucis. Beautiful torch light processions are held in Orvieto and Assisi.
In Florence, Easter is celebrated with the Scoppio del Carro, explosion of the cart. A huge, decorated cart is dragged through Florence by white oxen until it reaches Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence’s heart. Following mass, the Archbishop sends a dove-shaped rocket into the cart, igniting fireqorks. This spectacular display is followed by a parade in medieval costumes.
Good Friday and Easter with the Pope in Rome and Saint Peter’s
The biggest and most popular mass on Easter day is held by the Pope at Saint Peter’s Basilica. On Good Friday, the Pope celebrates the Via Crucis or Stations of the Cross in Rome ending at the Colosseum. A huge cross with burning torches lights the sky as the stations of the cross are described in several languages. At the end, the Pope gives a blessing.
WHAT DO ITALIANS EAT ON EASTER?
Traditional Easter meals vary from region to region, but eggs and roasted lamb are common elements everywhere. Eggs represent life, fertility, and renewal, all of which are essential symbols of Easter. Dyed eggs grace many Easter tables, and eggs are often found in soups and in a traditional Easter pie (Torta Pasqualina). Roasted lamb, as a symbol of birth and the Shepard, is a traditional main course.
Decorated chocolate eggs are very common and are given to kids or loved ones with a small gift inside.
It is also possible to request a custom made egg, selecting in advance the gift it will contain. Many engagements began in Easter, with an engagement ring hidden in an egg.
EASTER MONDAY – PASQUETTA
On Easter Monday, some cities hold dances, free concerts, or unusual games often involving eggs. Most stores and business are closed. It is a popular time to take short breaks to the countryside with friends and/or family, and pic-nics are very common.
“Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi”– “Christmas with family, Easter with whomever you choose”–is the saying on Pasquetta as people head for a picnic in one of city’s parks. A favorite feast typical of Rome, that celebrates the season, consists of pecorino cheese, young fava beans and red wine.