Easter or Pasqua is the second most important Italian holiday after Christmas. This holiday covers a long weekend in Italy, with the additional Italian tradition of Pasquetta (little Easter, also called Easter Monday) which, according to tradition, you are free to celebrate as you wish. In fact, young people during this holiday tend to stay with friends having pic-nic in the countryside or spend a long weekend in another city with no parents at all. A famous Italian saying for this time of year is:
“Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi”
(At Christmas with your parents, at Easter with whomever you want).
Visitors to Italy who are not spending time with friends may be interested to find that every city has their own traditions and, while you may not have friends and family to celebrate with, there are several ways to enjoy uniquely Italian traditions for Easter.
Chocolate and painted eggs
As chocolate became more and more popular in the early 20th Century, the skills of knowing how to color Easter eggs started to fade, and chocolate eggs began to take the place of painted hens’ eggs. Chocolate Easter eggs have now overtaken decorated eggs in Italy as the most popular gift at Easter.
Italians take everything chocolate very seriously – and Easter eggs are no exception. Chocolate eggs have become increasingly elaborate as manufacturers tempt people to buy their eggs. In every city in Italy, every supermarket, shop window and market stall will have a huge variety of chocolate eggs in the days leading up to Easter Sunday. They range from the tiny, solid milk chocolate to the massive, showy hollowed out eggs containing sometimes quite elaborate gifts. All of them will be wrapped in foil or cellophane with decorative ribbons.
Tradition in Florence
This tradition started in 1096, following the return of a Florentine knight, Pazzino di Ranieri de’ Pazzi, who raised the Holy Cross banner in Jerusalem during the Crusades. For his bravery, he received pieces of flint from the Holy Sepulcher of Christ. Upon his return to Florence, these stones were used to light the Easter Vigil sacred fire and then ported around the streets of Florence. Today Florentines commemorate this event with a Sunday procession during which an antique cart is pulled by a team of white oxen during a parade of 150 soldiers, musicians and other people dressed in 15th-century attire. The procession starts at Porta al Prato and ends in Piazza del Duomo in front of Santa Maria del Fiore. Once arrived, a dove-shaped rocket (La Colombina) holding an olive branch is shot towards a cart loaded with fireworks, setting off the scoppio (the boom). This yearly event is meant to bring a bountiful harvest, stable civic life, and growing business.
Easter in Rome
Rome is the city where the Vatican state resides, and who at this time a year is a sort of Mecca for Catholic pilgrims (do note that the Sistine Chapel does have exceptional closures during this long weekend celebration). Lucky for Roman visitors, however, all the other museums will stay open. On Good Friday many people gather in Saint Peter’s Basilica to listen to the Pope’s mass at 5 pm, and immediately following, the Pope starts his walk to remember the Christ’s Via Crucis with a candlelit procession starting at the Palatine Hill. After making 14 stops along the way to remember the walk of Christ and pray, the holy pontiff ends at the Colosseum. The beauty of this procession also lies in the gathering of many pilgrims with torches who follow: even for those who are do not consider themselves religious, this event is magic.
Traditional Easter food is the second most important celebration during Pasqua. If you want to eat at a restaurant, you’ll definitely want to first check if the place is open and second, make a reservation, noting that several restaurants do close from Good Friday till Pasquetta. While dining in Rome, you won’t want to miss the Roman traditional foods of Pizza Sbattuta, a sponge cake, hard boiled eggs, ham and corallina, a typical salami for Easter, as well as different varieties of salty cakes. You will also want to try the traditional lunch, consisting of oven-baked lamb, carciofi alla romana (Roman-style artichokes) and colomba (dove-shaped cake).
Food Italian traditions for Easter
In Lombardia (and not only), the Colomba is the most famous dessert, a dove-shaped bread made with almonds, sugar and egg whites. Today this cake is known worldwide, but originates in the region that boasts Milan. Another northern tradition is the Pinza Pasquale from Trieste, a sweet bread with a three-point cross carved on top. A Southern Easter tradition is the Casatiello from Naples, a salty cake containing cheese, sausage, salami, and even hard-boiled eggs. Catania, Sicily has a special kind of Easter cookies, aceddu cu’ l’ova. These cookies are simple and have different shapes (the most famous one being a dove), and once made they are given to family members and friends as a gesture of affection and good luck.