Easter in Italy – Choose Your Favorite Easter Tradition

By Priscila Siano

For the citizens of Italy, largely a Roman Catholic people, Easter – “Pasqua” – is a very special time of year. By far the most sacred of all Christian holidays, for most Italians, Easter is truly a reason to rejoice.

Many individual towns in Italy have their own unique Easter celebrations on Easter Sunday and during the days of Holy Week, including Good Friday. Easter Monday, also known as “la Pasquetta”, is also a notable holiday throughout the country, with schools and businesses closed and people taking to the streets to continue the celebration that began with the commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ the day before.

Holy Week

In Italy, the most typical way to mark Good Friday – the day that Jesus was crucified – is by an elaborate procession, Passion play, or similar event. Again, the commemoration of this solemn day on the Christian calendar varies from town to town.

In Chieti, in the Abruzzi region, the Good Friday procession is said to be the oldest in the country and is certainly one of the most moving. Men and children parade through the torch-lit streets of the town, each wearing the colors of their home parish. They carry symbols that characterize the Stations of the Cross and one individual carries a large wooden cross. The entire procession is accompanied by the haunting sounds of about 150 violins playing Miserere by Italian composer Savario Selecchy.

In Taormina, one woman is chosen to portray Mary, the mother of Jesus. She wanders through the dark streets in search of her lost son, assisted by black-robed locals who attempt to help her find Jesus.

In Calitri, men in white hoods topped by crowns of thorns make their way through the streets carrying crosses on their shoulders. Church choirs follow them, singing hymns, psalms, and folksongs of the region.

In the Sicilian town of Enna, Good Friday traditions go all the way back to the period of Spanish domination in Italy, around the 15th to 17th centuries. About 2,000 hooded men travel through the main streets holding 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, as well as nails and a crown of thorns.

Easter Sunday and Monday

Marking a joyous day after a very solemn week, Easter celebrations in Italy are spectacular and generally last two days, as Easter Monday is a designated national holiday for Italians.

The most notable Easter celebration is in Florence and is called Scoppio del Carro, the explosion of the cart. This tradition includes an ornate cart, dragged through the streets of the city by several white oxen. Following mass at the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, a dove-shaped rocket is aimed at the cart, igniting the fireworks within, which then explode – accompanied by much fanfare and shouts of joy. A gala parade follows.

In Palermo, women dress in the elegant costumes of the 15th century Byzantine era and make their way through the streets of the town, handing out red Easter eggs to outstretched hands. In Chieti, a pageant is staged that represents the reuniting of mother and son, Mary and Jesus.

Easter Monday is a day of much merriment, characterized by events such as the wacky “cheese roll” in the Umbrian town of Panicale. Quite simply, participants roll their large wheel of cheese around a course set up on the streets of this quaint village. Whoever is able to get their cheese through the course with the fewest number of strokes wins the game. There’s also free music, free wine, and lots of free hard-boiled eggs!

Learn more about other traditional holidays in Italy!