Pasqua Traditions/Easter Traditions – Mercato

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Pasqua Traditions/Easter Traditions

Second only to Christmas on the ‘Important Holidays Calendar’, Pasqua (Easter), is of great importance to Italians and is the weekend for many traditions across the regions. The days leading up to Easter Sunday have solemn masses, processions and rituals but the day itself is one of joy, laden with traditions, food and family.
 
There is a load of theatre as well, with performances depicting the crucifixion and, happier, resurrection, of Jesus Christ. Parades honouring Jesus and Mary travel through towns and cities across Italy and depending on the day of the week, are either jovial or quieter and a little more ceremonial.
 
Coming together after Sunday Mass for the Easter feast is a tradition upheld by families across the country, especially for those who have foregone some food groups for Lent. Some will collect Easter Eggs with children, but this is less of a focus for a day at the end of a very ceremonial and religiously important week.
 
There is also a great focus on celebrating Spring (in the Northern Hemisphere). This happens most on Pasquetta (Easter Monday), which is known as Little Easter. This day is another for food, family and light hearted festivities. The weather is usually nice enough for outdoor activities, egg hunts and in some cases: cheese wheel racing!
 
PASQUA FOOD
 
I love this Italian expression: "Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi" (Christmas is spent with your family, Easter with your own choice of friends). This refers mainly to the meals enjoyed at Easter and the time off work that more and more young people spend with their ‘urban families’.
 
After the sacrifice and reserved reverence of Lent, the Easter feast(s) play an important role in the traditions of Pasqua. This also applies to people who don’t take part in Lent, as Easter is still a time for families of all shapes and sizes coming together, and no one does this better and with a more laden dining table, than Italians.
 
Starting with an Easter Sunday breakfast (Colazione Di Pasqua), representing the rebirth of Christ, a huge meal is taken including eggs, omelettes, salami and pie.
 
Traditional mains include Carciofi Fritti (Fried Artichokes), Capretto o Agnellino al Forno (roasted goat or lamb), and Carciofi e Patate Soffritti, a vegetable side dish of sautéed artichokes with baby potatoes. So: A lot of meat, a lot of artichokes. Lamb with Spring vegetables are a must.
 
Every region makes their own take on Easter breads and especially the dove-shaped Colomba, symbolising Peace, which are gifted and eaten at Easter time. Other special breads include rich bread shaped like a crown, bejewelled with coloured Easter Egg sweets. Another sweet highlight of the holiday is Pastiera Napoletana. This is a traditional Italian cake served at easter which contains grana cotto, ricotta and citrus flavours.
 
One shout out I want to do because it involves two special foods close to my heart: cheese and bread: Torta Di Pasqua, a savoury cheese bread which, and this is a bonus, is sprinkled with Holy Water!
 
Pasquetta (Easter Monday) has a more relaxed feel and is a great time for picnics with family and friends. Leftovers from the Sunday feast are enjoyed with a heavy focus on eggs and cheese (hard boiled, frittatas, quiches etc). This is a day for celebrating new beginnings and Spring.


IN FLORENCE
 
Florentines never fail at perfectly marrying food, festivities and holiday traditions. In Florence, Easter is celebrated with the Scoppio del Carro (Explosion of the Cart). This tradition has been running for over 300 years, starting in 1679. An elaborate cart is paraded through the city, arriving finally at the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (where Easter Mass is held). During the service, a holy fire is stoked by ancient stone chips from the Holy Sepulchre, and the Archbishop lights a dove-shaped rocket. Stay with me here. This dove-shaped rocket then travels down a wire and collides with the cart in the square. I am not making this up.  Fireworks and explosions ensue and the celebrations kick off for real.  A big bang ensures a good harvest for the coming season and stable civic life, and a parade back through the city follows with people in costume, soldiers and musicians.
 
IN ROME
 
Catholic pilgrims head to Rome at Easter time. Saint Peter’s Square in the Vatican is of great religious importance and attending the Pope’s 5pm mass on Good Friday is truly a sight to see and event to behold. After mass, the Pope commences his walk to remember the Christ’s Via Crucis. This candlelit procession starting at the Palatine Hill makes 14 stops along the way to remember the walk of Christ, ending at the Colosseum. Even for those who are not themselves religious, this event is magical owing to the gathering of people and lights who line the way.
 
IN SICILY
 
Enna in Sicily holds elaborate traditional processions to celebrate Easter. The Good Friday event involves 2000 friars dressed in ancient robes who traverse the city. Religious events of this nature date back to the 15th Century. The parade is silent and solemn but above all: breathtaking.
On Easter Sunday, Paci takes place, where a statues of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ are taken to the main square where they stay for a week for pilgrims to visit.
In Catania, there are special Easter biscuits (usually shaped like a dove) which are gifted in the spirit of good luck and affection.
 
EGGS, JUST NOT FROM A RABBIT
 
Chocolate Easter Eggs are prevalent in Italy, but there is far less focus on a mystical Easter Bunny who brings them. Rather, they are a time for Chocolate makers and artisans to show off their talent and create true works of art. Chocolate shops, pastry shops and supermarkets in Italy become galleries for displaying Uova di Pasqua (Easter Eggs) in a huge range of sizes – and all but the tiny ones usually contain a gift inside! The expensive adult Easter Eggs, which are intricately decorated and made using the best ingredients, can contain surprises like costume jewellery, picture frames and small games. You can also have chocolatiers make personalised eggs which can contain things like Engagement rings or special gifts for loved ones.
 
A new watch or piece of jewellery hidden inside an artisan Egg may be nice, but this Easter I’ll be happy with a hollow egg, a family lunch and helping the kids with their Easter morning hunt!
 
Buona Pasqua a tutti!
 
Sara Best
Traveller of Places, Lover of Wine, Eater of Food, Teller of Stories

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