When it comes to spending Easter in Italy, it’s hard to know where to begin describing the multitude of celebrations that come with the holiday. The traditions of Italy are amongst the most important in the lives of many Italians. In the week leading up to the Easter or Pasqua celebrations, women start preparing the traditional specialties while towns and parishes put the finishing touches on their plans for commemorating Good Friday.
Good Friday is a special day in Italy
Processions are common on Good Friday. In Chieti, in the region of Abruzzi, men and children parade through the torch-lit streets of the town, each wearing the colors of their home parish. Those in the procession carry symbols that characterize the Stations of the Cross; one individual carries a large wooden cross. The procession is accompanied by the haunting sounds of about 150 violins playing Miserere by Italian composer Savario Selecchy.
In the Sicilian town of Enna, as many as 2,000 hooded men walk the streets carrying Vare, religious statues of the dead Christ and his mother, Mary. Others carry symbols of the crucifixion, including the thirty denarii paid to Peter to betray Christ, nails and a crown of thorns.
All over Italy, hundreds of processions take place on Good Friday. In Rome, the Pope also participates in a huge procession that starts at the Colosseum.
This video of the Good Friday procession in Sulmona will give you a glimpse of the traditional celebrations observed every Easter in Italy’s Abruzzi region.
Celebrating Easter in Italy
Although it has a solemn start, Easter is a wonderful time to be in Italy. Unlike Christmas, when most families stay indoors, at Easter everyone seems to be out in the streets, going to church and celebrating in their own way. In fact there’s a saying in Italian that illustrates just this: Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi, which means: Christmas with your family and Easter with whomever you like.
Spending Easter in Italy will give you an entirely new outlook on the meaning and traditions of this special time on the traditional Christian calendar.
Many Easter traditions are the same across almost every part of the country. First, there are the enormous chocolate eggs wrapped in glittery paper that you see in the windows of every coffee bar and super market for a month before Easter. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that those giant chocolate eggs are solid though! Unfortunately they’re hollow, but that’s actually because each one has a toy inside. Though Italy has loads of chocolate eggs, it never celebrates Easter with bunnies. The egg is held up on its own as a symbol of the regeneration of spring.
Another tasty treat that pops up everywhere around Easter time is colomba. It’s a sweet Italian Easter bread (or bread-like cake) that is a relative to the traditional Christmas panettone. Colomba means dove in Italian, which explains why the cake is in the shape of a bird, though sometimes you really have to stretch your imagination to see it!
Where will you spend your Easter in Italy?Despite their similarities, some cities have Easter traditions all their own. One of the most bizarre and exciting is the celebration of Scoppio del Carro or Explosion of the Cart in Florence. Every Easter morning for the past five hundred years, an ornate cart (yes, the very same ornate cart) is pulled into the Piazza del Duomo by white oxen wearing garlands of the spring’s first flowers and herbs around their necks. Men in colorful 15th-century costumes twirl flags to the beat of drums while the bells of Giotto’s campanile ring out through the square.
Inside the Duomo, a strange and sacred ceremony is taking place. A little holy rocket in the shape of a dove is lit by holy fire. The bird zips out the door, far above the heads of worshippers, bearing its fire to the cart. The cart, loaded with fireworks and other pyrotechnics, bursts into flames, and the little dove (or colombina) zips back into the church amongst a show of sparking fire. The cart crackles, pops, and flares for a good twenty minutes. The bells continue to chime, the drummers to beat, but the flag throwers and everyone gathered silently watch the cart’s flames.
A Roman Easter day is a bit more predictable. The piazza in the front of St. Peter’s Basilica fills with expectant people, all gathered to see the Pope give his Easter address. Unless you come really early you probably won’t be able to see him, a small dot on the porch of the magnificent church. Fortunately there are screens set up around Bernini’s colonnade so that everyone can see the Pope give his address larger than life size.
It seems the most creative and interesting Easter celebrations take place on the island of Sicily. Maybe because it’s separated from the mainland, the strangest Easter traditions have stayed in place for those hundreds of years. Or perhaps it is the stronger religious fervor of the island that has held on to this array of unusual festivities. Whatever it is, many small towns celebrate Easter around Sicily in their very own way, unique from anywhere else in the world.Starting with the strangest first, the Dance of the Devil takes place in Prizzi, a smallish town to the south of the Sicilian capital, Palermo. Some of the town’s citizens don satanic masks with horns and walk around the crowds trying to persuade people to drink, a symbol for the stealing of souls. Of course the devils can’t have full run of the town on Easter day, so there are others dressed as angels, providing beneficent peace on the crowd. The whole scene is a depiction of the battle between good and evil and culminates in a fun-time for all.
A very similar Easter festival takes place in Adrano, on the south-west flank of Mount Etna. This party is called the Diavolata. The town’s central piazza is decked out with a stage that’s half devoted to Hell and its devil and demons, and the other half to the clouds and gold of heaven and its angels. The Diavolata is played out between the angels who try to get the devils to say “Viva Maria.” Maybe the best part are the stage effects like smoke and fire, because you certainly can’t be surprised at how the play ends.
Another traditional place to visit in Sicily at Easter is Piana Degli Albanesi, a commune to the west of Palermo that was settled by Albanian immigrants in the 1400s. The whole area is a world apart from the rest of the country, as even the street signs are printed in Italian and the local Albanian dialect. The people who live there are called Arbëreschë, and at Easter they dust off their traditional clothes. Mostly the women get dressed in the sumptuous costumes of the 1400s, but there are also some men who take part in the festivities. After the gospel is read in seven languages, there’s a procession through the streets to the town’s main piazza where the people then distribute red eggs.
Don’t forget, Easter in Italy doesn’t finish on Sunday! Monday is also a holiday, called Pasquetta (or little Easter), and is usually spent with friends.
Would you like to spend your next Easter discovering the Passion of Italy? Then you’ll need to start planning your travel dates right away!
Easter 2013 Dates
Good Friday - Friday 29th March 2013
Easter Sunday - Sunday 31st March 2013
Easter Monday - Monday 1st April 2013
Wherever you’d like to be in Italy for Easter, we can get you there! Contact us today to discuss your plans for an unforgettable Italian Easter.