Easter is a beloved, widely revered holiday throughout all of Italy.
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The Easter season is considered the second most important holiday in Italy after Christmas, and it is kept in a much more religious manner than in many other Western nations, to the point where the Easter Bunny is somewhat hard to find. Italy is 80 percent Roman Catholic, with only about five percent belonging to other Christian denominations and three percent to non-Christian faiths. The rest are “secular,” but oftentimes, still “culturally Catholic.”
The Easter season in Italy has a long lead-up. First, there is “Carnevale” (Mardi Gras) beginning in January and lasting till Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. Then, fish and other favourite foods or activities are abstained from for 40 days during the Lenten period. About two weeks before Easter, religious pilgrims begin travelling to Rome and things start to get busy.
During the last week before Easter, Holy Week, there are special masses on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and finally, on Easter Sunday itself, called “Pasqua.” Easter Monday, “La Pasquetta,” is also a public holiday in Italy, though not of religious significance.
Within the Catholic faith, Easter is often looked upon as more significant than Christmas. Over eighty percent of Italians identify themselves as Catholic. Easter Sunday, or Pasqua, is a day of parades, festive church services, and of course chocolate eggs. According to the “Walks of Italy” article Easter in Italy: 5 Things You Have to Know, the majority of museums and sights will be open on Easter Sunday and Monday but many stores and eateries will be closed.
Also during Holy Week, there are numerous solemn processions and cultural events held throughout the land. Statues of Mary and Jesus are brought out of churches and cathedrals and paraded through the streets or put on display in public squares. Ancient attire is worn by participants, and on Palm Sunday, olive branches and palm leaves are carried by crowds and used to adorn church buildings. On Easter Monday, there will be dances, concerts, and games involving Easter eggs. In the town of Panicale, giant cheese wheels are rolled around the city wall in lieu of playing egg games.
When Easter arrives, Lent fasting ends, and thus, Easter foods are a big part of the festivities. Besides Easter eggs, common fare includes: chocolate eggs with prizes inside, fresh “Easter breads,” like pannetone and colomba, which are shaped like doves and often given as a gift, lamb or goat as the main course, and artichokes.
Should you tour Italy at Easter time, you will find there are numerous events taking place throughout Holy Week and on Easter Monday. Here are five you may be interested in attending:
- Go to Rome and the Vatican for Holy Week. You can attend mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica, where the Pope will give the sermon, go through Rome’s Stations of the Cross, with its giant, torch-lit cross and multi-lingual explanations of each station, and while there, visit the Roman Colosseum.
- See any of the various Good Friday processions. In Enna, Sicily, thousands of monks in ancient garb walk the streets; while in Trapani, Sicily, the procession lasts all day long. In Chieti, northeast of Rome near the Adriatic Sea, the procession includes 100 playing violins.
- See live plays re-enacting the events of Good Friday, when Jesus was crucified, in a number of towns in the hill region of Umbria. The Stations of the Cross and torchlight processions are a part of some of these celebrations.
- Visit Florence to see the “Explosion of the Cart,” an “Easter event” that involves white oxen pulling an ornately decorated cart through town to the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore. The cart is filled with fireworks and is blown up by a rocket blasted into it by the local archbishop just after mass. Then there is parade in which participants dress up in Medieval attire.
- See the “La Madonna Che Scappa” event in Sulmona. There, every one dresses up in green and white and goes to the piazza (plaza) to see a black-clad Virgin Mary suddenly appear in green after the dramatic release of doves by the local public fountain. There is also music and a feast involved, besides the “super-hero-like” clothes-change act.
Italy is a popular place to be at Easter time, so travelers should book early and make detailed travel plans well in advance.