Here we are a couple days after a long weekend of celebrating Easter. At home, of course. Yesterday was Easter Monday, or Pasquetta, and is recognized in Italia as a public holiday. This year, however, it all looked a little different; there were not any picnics, day trips, or vacations and despite the common Italian phrase, “Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi” (Christmas is spent with family, Easter with whoever you want), nobody spent Easter anywhere other than their home or with whomever they wanted. Covid-19 continues and the whole of Italy was in the red zone for the holiday this past weekend. We tried not to let this dampen our spirits (although it was tough considering we’ve spent every single major and minor holiday since November in strict lockdown). When it comes to Easter, our family does not celebrate with Easter baskets. We like to focus on family time, egg hunts or coloring eggs, and enjoying a large meal together. Luckily, everyone is different so there is always something interesting to learn about a cultures celebration of a holiday. And just as important as the holidays are in Italy so are the meals that are prepared during those times! Festivals and gatherings may be cancelled but there is always the local food to try!! So I started there- what does Easter mean in the Italian culture and what does Easter around the table look like in this country.
Easter is one of the most important holidays of the year in Italy, marking the beginning of spring and outdoor activites. Normally, festivals, religious rites, and processions are just some of the events organized during this period. The celebrations of Easter begin the previous Sunday on Domenica delle Palme (Palm Sunday) to remember the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, who was welcomed by the waving of palm leaves. On this day it is common to see families and children returning home with olive branches blessed in the church. Holy Thursday remembers the recurrence of the Last Supper. There is a tradition here of visiting the altar of repose in seven local churches. Neapolitans actually have another tradition of their own on Holy Thursday and that is to eat zuppa de cozze (mussel soup). It’s a tradition that dates back to the 18th century when the Bourbon dynasty ruled Naples. It is said that a sumptuous recipe made from mussels was created to bypass the strict rules of Easter fasting. This seafood, classified as one of the poorest, is considered one of the tastiest! Good Friday is the day of Via Crucis where the streets light up with torches and are crossed by processions that commemorate the death of Jesus. Good Friday is observed as a day of sorrow and fasting because Jesus died on the cross that day. There are processions and rituals all around Italy. On Saturday at midnight the bells ring to announce His resurrection. Easter Sunday brings a celebration at the Basilica at an 11 am mass followed by the Pope’s traditional Easter blessing- Urbi et Orbi (to the city of Rome and the World)– and bells ringing all over the city.
A typical Italian meal during Pasqua consists of an antipasto (a rich appetizer consisting of cold cuts, cheeses, and hard boiled eggs), ravioli, tortano o casatiello, lasagna, and/or agnello (lamb) with potatoes. Our Italian dinner consisted of an antipasto, a trio of bruschette, ravioli with a yellow tomato cream for the main course, lamb with potatoes for the second dish, a side dish of fried artichokes, and a pastiera pie for dessert. Plus, a couple bottles of grandad’s homemade wine! A pastiera is made from wheat, ricotta, orange flower water, spices, and sugar and covered with rhombuses according to traditions. A casatiello is a Neapolitan cake eaten at Easter made of bread dough and stuffed with cubed traditional cold cuts, eggs, and cheeses, and decorated with hard boiled eggs.
In Italy, like cultures across the world, eggs are considered a symbol of fertility and rebirth during the spring. Italians do not have the Easter bunny but rather they celebrate with chocolate Easter eggs. Easter eggs can be of different chocolate (milk, dark, white) and different sizes, and they come in brightly wrapped tin foil. They are especially unique because they are hollow and hold a surprise inside of them!! It is customary to buy Easter eggs for your family.
But Easter celebrations don’t end on Easter Sunday but rather the next day. The day after Easter is known as Pasquetta (small Easter). As I have already mentioned, it is a public holiday in Italia and usually spent with friends enjoying a picnic or getting out of town for a day, eating all the delicious leftovers and relaxing.
Regardless of being in lockdown, I’d say this was a really enjoyable Easter. I was still able to connect to this country and its traditions here without actually stepping foot in town. Each region, each city, each family in Italy has their own traditions for Easter. I cannot wait until next year to explore more of them!
Our roots will forever be from here, America, born and raised. Yet, life requires us to move more frequently than we care to count. Whether living stateside or abroad, you can always find us traveling somewhere. We scout out places that you only think you can dream of one day seeing and we seek out those that aren’t found in guidebooks. We then bring them to life here in our travel memos, so hopefully, one day you too can visit them or at least be able to live vicariously through us. This blog isn’t just about crossing off places from a bucket list. It’s about absorbing and learning how other cultures grow and fit into the same world that we do. Life is short and the world is big. Enjoy and get out there!