“Are you excited about the Easter Bunny coming to deliver you chocolate eggs?” “The WHAT?” “You know, the Easter Bunny. Big, furry creature, floppy ears. Carries a basket filled with eggs. He comes to your house the night before Easter!” “What are you—I don’t—Non capisco!” And so it goes if you ever ask an Italian child about the Easter Bunny. Why the blank stares, the total lack of comprehension? In Italy, the Easter Bunny makes no stops – no, this bizarre, folkloric creature doesn’t exist at all.
But that’s not to say that Italy doesn’t have loads of its own Easter traditions. In fact, Easter is arguably more celebrated in Italy than it is in America or England. As a country that observes all Catholic holidays, including the Immaculate Conception and the Epiphany, Italy closes its schools for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and also for Easter Monday, or “Pasquetta” (literally “Little Easter”). While Easter Bunnies don’t set up shop in malls across the nation in the weeks preceding Easter, the universal symbol of the holiday is by no means lost on Italy. Yes, the Easter egg is alive and well, and it comes to children in the best way possible – in a massive, chocolate form. Thanks to the close-knit nature of the Italian extended family, by Easter morning children have typically racked up an impressive number of these hollow eggs, which contain a smaller plastic egg with a toy inside.
Easter, of course, isn’t all about children. From the North to the South of Italy in nearly every Italian town, Italians gather in the squares for processions and religious ceremonies to commemorate the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Giovedì Santo, or Holy Thursday, is dedicated to a mass and prayer in remembrance of the Last Supper. Venerdì Santo, or Good Friday, is a day of mourning, and in the evening the streets light up with torches as people gather for the procession of the Way of the Cross. This tradition is particularly remarkable in Rome, known as “La Via Crucis al Colosseo.” Led by the Pope himself, the procession draws an enormous crowd of spectators that witness the event from outside the ancient amphitheater and along Via dei Fori Imperiali.
The somber tone lifts on Sabato Santo, or Holy Saturday, when the church bells ring out joyously at midnight, announcing the resurrection of Christ. The festive mood carries on to Easter Sunday, when mass is attended either in the morning or evening. The day is spent with family and is full of rich culinary traditions. It’s all kicked off first thing in the morning by the famous “colazione Pasquale,” or Easter breakfast. It’s a decadent spread of both sweet and savory dishes, decisively heavy as it is intended to break the 40 days of Lent’s moderation and fasting. Some of the dishes include “la pizza di Pasqua,” which is a cake that can be either sweet or savory, depending on the region; “la torta al formaggio,” a bread baked with various cheeses and served together with salami; and “il casatiello Napoletano,” a ring-shaped bread filled with cheese, salami, and topped with unshelled hard-boiled eggs. Extraordinarily, Easter lunch follows around 1 o’clock, and Italians across the nation make room for lamb and the traditional dove-shaped Easter cake, “la Colomba.”
As Easter also ushers in and celebrates the coming of spring, Italian families make an exodus to the parks on Easter Monday and spend the day outdoors. In recent years however, Easter has become synonymous with rain, relentless rain. But this year, the forecast is miraculously sunny and in the sixties. If you’re lucky enough to be in Rome during this special time, bring a pair of sunglasses and pick up a Colomba for yourself!
(Photos courtesy of giallozafferano.it, stylosophy.it, and doncurzionitoglia.com)
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