In Italy, Easter is one of the most relevant festivities under many different points of views. Families gather again since the last big family reunion on Christmas’ Day, the shop shelves are populated by colorful chocolate eggs and “colombe” (the traditional dove-shaped Easter cake), and Christians are getting ready to celebrate Jesus Christ’s resurrection.
Easter time is a busy period in Italy, but it is my favorite time of the year. The weather is sunny and warm, but not too hot, and people usually have time off from their jobs or from school so they can enjoy the good weather around the city. I take advantage of the Easter holiday to meet with my friends and to celebrate with my family.
On Sunday, Italians celebrate Pasqua (Easter) with family and friends, and on Monday they celebrate Pasquetta (Easter Monday) with friends having lunch together or going for a trip out of town. Italians also value the religious connotation of this day. The “Settimana della Passione” or “Settimana Santa” (Holy Week”) starts on the evening of “Domenica delle Palme” (Palm Sunday) and concludes on Easter Sunday. On Palm Sunday, Italian Catholics commemorate Christ’s entry into Jerusalem by holding in their hands a small olive branch during the mass which is going to be blessed by the priests with holy water. On “Giovedì Santo” (Maundy Thursday” or Holy Thursday) commemorates the Last Supper and the mass celebrated on this day inaugurates the “Triduo Pasquale” (Easter Triduum) and priests celebrate the rite of washing the feet. The “Venerdì Santo” (Good Friday) commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus and his death. It is common in Italy to perform a procession known as Via Crucis (literally, “the way of the cross”) as a commonly-shared time of reflection and prayers.
In many areas including mine, the procession is led by a small group of men carrying crosses. The most famous Italian Via Crucis is the one taking place in Rome. The Pope leaves the Saint Peter’s Basilica at 5pm and he starts the walk making the 14 Stations of the Cross. The procession starts at the Palatine Hill and ends at the Colosseum, and it is often aired on TV. On “Sabato Santo” (Holy Saturday) the Easter Vigil begins. In many Italian cities, the celebrations of the Easter Vigil can last up to four or five hours and it is celebrated with moments of deep silence and prayer. Finally, on Sunday, Easter is celebrated. Easter Day celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. After the big Easter lunch, celebrations are not over. Italians love to spend Pasquetta (Easter Monday) with their loved ones and going for a one-day-trip out of town or having a “grigliata” (barbecue).
I believe that Easter has remained one of the most authentic feasts celebrated in Italy, with different traditions standing the proof of time along the peninsula. Such variety reflects on traditional foods, religious ceremonies and family traditions. What does not change from region to region is for sure the Colomba, the traditional Easter cake topped with almonds and pearl sugar. The dough is very similar to panettone’s, but it is fashioned into a dove-shaped cake. The cake takes its name after the bird that is a sign of peace, the dove (la colomba).
Chocolate eggs can be found in every supermarket from North to South. Children love them, not only for the delicious chocolate but also for the toys contained in each chocolate egg. Among the most famous ones, Kinder, Lindt and Ferrero Rocher are the most loved ones both by children and grown-ups.
It could be stated that both national and local Easter traditions exist, which makes it difficult to comprehensively present the variety of traditions existing in all the Italian regions. I have asked my friends who live in different areas to write a short paragraph about relevant Easter traditions in their towns. As an Italian, it has been incredible to witness such diversity in terms of rituals, traditions and food. The following represent a few of the traditions described by my friends who live in various areas of Italy.
Please send me your reactions to these descriptions in the comments.
My name is Federico, and I was born in the North of Italy in a small town close to the border with Switzerland. Easter is for me a special time of the year because it reminds me of my childhood years with my friends. As a child, I used to spend Easter with my family at my Grandparents’ house. My grandma would cook the rabbit stew and potatoes, salad, a small aperitivo and we would spend hours and hours sitting at the table waiting for my favorite moment to happen: opening the Easter eggs. Easter chocolate eggs are a big thing here in Italy, especially for children. I loved the feeling of finding a small toy that we call “sorpresa” in the chocolate egg. There was always some kind of competition going on with my cousins to see who had the best toy. On that day, I used to eat a lot of chocolate and my favourite one was the Kinder one. Kinder chocolate was truly delicious, and I remember asking my grandma for one egg chocolate only, but Kinder. Another sweet I loved was (and still is) the Lindt Chocolate bunny, the one wrapped in golden paper and with the small bell pending on its neck. The quality of the chocolate is very high, and this is what I value not only on Easter day but also on all the other days.
I am Marttia and I live in the Lazio Region, Ceprano, close to Rome. When I think about Easter I think about family, religion and obviously food. In my family, we make and eat the Pigna. Pigna is the short form of Pigna Pasquale. I don’t know a lot about the story of this cake, but it’s common to eat it in the Southern and Central regions of Italy. The kind of Pigna I ate is the “rustica” one that my aunts and grandmas make every Easter, we sometimes eat it also in the days before Easter during the Holy Week. The Pigna is a cake that has the shape of a ring, but it’s thick and in the middle there’s one hard-boiled egg, on the surface the cake is sprinkled with sugar coated almonds (confetti) and a withe, sweet glaze.
Ciao! My name is Giuseppe and I am from Campania, in the South of Italy. In my area, Easter is very important and the most famous and traditional cake is called “pastiera napoletana”. It’s very easy to get a pastiera from your local pasticceria or if you have time, you can bake it yourself. Personally, I don’t have time to do it myself but my grandma used to bake it every year. Another traditional dish is the Casatiello.Casatiello is a savoury dish originary from the Campania Region and it is usually stuffed with Salame Campano and Pecorino cheese. Both the salame and the pecorino should be diced and mixed with the dough, but the most important thing is the placement of the four raw eggs on the surface. They don’t have to be too close and they have to be “caged” by two stripes of extra dough each. I am looking forward to going back to my family this Easter and seeing my parents and relatives.
My name is Giuseppe and I’m from Sardinia. Sardinia is an Island with strong traditions rooted in the territory. Among the most common Easter traditions, S’Iscravamentu is one of the most loved by the locals. During this religious ceremony, the Holy Cross is placed in front of the eyes of the crying Virgin Mary. S’Iscravamentu is usually celebrated on Good Friday and it is accompanied by songs in Sardinian. The ceremony begins with a procession where the male participants symbolize Giuseppe and Nicodemo d’Arimatea. During the procession, two trays are carried: the first one with a hammer and a pincer, and the second one with a white bed sheet. The whole ritual happens in silence and it ends at the main Church, and the choir sings “Miserere di Cristo” and the voices of the people accompany the burial of Jesus’ body. One of the members of the clergy stays awake throughout the night, and watches over the Holy Sepulcher. This is meant to represent the death of Jesus on Good Friday, before the Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
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Gary Campanella says
Thank you, Clara, for the wonderful article. Another traditional Easter food in Campania is “pizza chiena”, a type of torta made with eggs, meats, and cheeses. My sisters in Rhode Island still make as do my relatives in Benevento.
Niki Kranz says
This is very interesting, thank you, Clara! There are many similar traditions in Hungary and Austria as well. For example, we also have chocolate eggs that we give the kids. What surprised me when I was in Italy, that the size of these eggs are way bigger. I guess the surprise is also bigger 🙂