Easter is a big holiday in Italy. Second only to Christmas. While Christmas is all about family and gifts. Easter is all about the food. It is days and days of delicious eating.
In 2013 Easter will be celebrated starting from March 29 with solemn Good Friday rituals and through to Monday April 1 “Pasquetta” Little Easter, celebrated with a picnic in a park.
There is an Italian saying “Natale on I tuoi: Pasqua con chi vuoi” which means Christmas with your family, Easter with whom you want.
In the major cities and smaller town Easter is a time of celebrations and you will often find religious parades. Some notable traditions are Forence, Sorrento and Trapani, Sicily.
Florence with it’s Crusades era "Scoppio del Carro" (explosion of the cart) is quite a spectacle. On Easter Sunday an elaborately decorated cart is led throughout the historical center by white oxen and a procession of traditionally dressed residents. It is then filled with fireworks at the Piazza del Duomo and spectacularly lit by a representation of a dove.
The Easter processions in Sorrento date back to 1586 and are lead by hooded members of religious brotherhoods. They carry symbols of the Passion of Jesus and his crucifixion throughout the town.
The "I Misteri" procession, is the most important traditional event of the year in Trapani, Sicily and is one of the most famous in Italy. With roots in Spanish tradition and dating back to the early 1700’s, Maestranze (a medieval guild of artisans) create eighteen statues depicting the Passion of the Christ. These statues plus the two statues of Jesus and Our Lady of Sorrows are carried on the shoulders of the Maestranze throughout the town. The procession lasts 24 hours and is accompanied by local marching bands.
And of course in Rome and Vatican City, the Pope presides over Easter ceremonies. There are days of rites, processions and masses celebrated including a reenactment of the stations of the cross held on Good Friday inside the Colosseum and finishing with the Pope delivering the blessing known as the "Urbi et Orbi – to the City and to the World" from the balcony on the façade of Saint Peter’s. The vast Saint Peters square is beautifully decorated with spring flowers.
Now about the food. There are many traditional dishes on the Easter table breaking the somber 40 day Lenten period. The are regional variations in what is prepared, but eggs, lamb, bread and lots of chocolate eggs feature most prominently and have significant meaning. The egg represents the origins of life, rebirth, hope, and new beginnings. The lamb, representing innocence and the sacrificed Christ (the lamb of God). Bread also has a religious significance as Christ is often referred to as "the bread of life."
Starting with Breakfast. Easter Sunday is one of the only days that breakfast is not a quick cappuccino and cornetto at the neighborhood bar. Known as Torta di Pasqua, Pizza Rustica or Casatiello depending what art of Italy you are in. It is a hearty savory cheese, egg and ham stuffed bread. The round shape is the shape is said to symbolize the crown of thorns.
Abbacchio Al Forno, milk fed lamb, is the star of the Italian Easter lunch. You will find it roasted with potatoes and served with seasonal spring vegetable like artichokes and peas and asparagus.
Pastiera is the traditional dessert you will find on every Easter table from Umbria to south of Naples. Pastiera is Neapolitan and is a ricotta and cooked wheat pie, scented with orange essence. There are seven ingredients of Pastiera that legend says were offered by seven maidens to the Siren Parthenope. Flour and grain – the fruits of the earth, eggs signifying the renewal of life, ricotta cheese in homage to the shepherds, orange water, candies and sugar, the perfumes and sweetness spring. In more modern times, the nuns from the Convent of San Gregorio Armeno in Naples are credited with the creation of Pastiera.
Colombo is the Easter version of the Christmas Panettone and Pandoro cakes baked in the shape of a dove. It is often studded with almonds and dusted with confectioners sugar.
In America Easter baskets are the norm. It Italy it is Chocolate eggs. In every size, brightly wrapped and ornately decorated these hollow chocolate eggs are usually hiding a tiny toy or surprise inside. You have to break it open to see what is hiding.
Easter in Italy is a time of joy, spring, friend and food. Buona Pasqua!