Easter in Italy: From chocolate eggs to unique celebrations!

Easter, known as Pasqua in Italy, stands as a cornerstone of the nation’s festive calendar alongside Christmas. Think of it as a mosaic of traditions, flavours, and spirituality, culminating in joyous celebrations, with schools closing their doors and families eagerly anticipating the reunions that await them.

You might have heard the famous Italian saying, Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi (Christmas with your family, Easter with whomever you want). Well, in reality, Easter remains a big family affair. Those studying or living abroad travel back home for the Easter break and big lunches are organised, bringing together relatives we only catch up with during mandatory holiday gatherings.

So, curious to learn more about how Italy celebrates Easter? Let’s dive into it!

easter in italy

Italy’s Holy Week rituals

During Holy Week, many cities and towns throughout Italy stage events steeped in profound faith and devotion. One of the most significant days is Venerdì Santo (Good Friday), commemorating the suffering and crucifixion of Christ. Streets transform into living theatres that pulsate with processions and reenactments tracing their origins back centuries. But despite its deep cultural and religious importance, Good Friday is not an official public holiday in Italy, so many carry on with their regular daily routines and work obligations.

Such events can be deeply moving, especially in southern regions. Take Enna for example, where the hooded members of the local confraternities march through the streets carrying the statues of Christ and the Virgin of Our Sorrow to the sound of funeral marches. Similarly, in Taranto, hooded devotees barefoot called Perdoni bear the crown of thorns on their heads, partaking in a marathon procession lasting several hours.

Another town that stands out for the uniqueness of its rituals is Romagnano Sesia, in Piedmont, where odd years see locals turning into actors to stage Christ’s Passion through the village. And then there’s Campobasso, where a group of 100 musicians and a choir of 700 people, all dressed strictly in black, parade through the streets of the historic center on Good Friday, performing the poignant Teco vorrei o Signore.

The chocolate Easter eggs

Chocolate eggs are an essential symbol of Easter in Italy. While the Easter egg tradition is not uniquely Italian, the country surely elevates it to unparalleled heights of creativity and artisanal mastery.

As soon as Carnival (Carnevale) ends, supermarkets across the country transform into wonderlands of chocolate, flooding their aisles with eggs of all sizes. Wrapped in dazzling cellophane paper, these eggs aren’t just treats – they’re treasure troves of excitement! Yep, because they are hollow and contain gifts! Sure, some might contain lame trinkets, but modern packaging drops hints, teasing the hidden delights within, whether it’s tailored goodies for boys or girls or even fancy treats from top brands.

And then there are bakeries and pastry shops, whose windows become art galleries of exquisite artisanal eggs. Each one is such a masterpiece of craftsmanship that it’s almost a crime to break them, but in the end you’ll surrender to the irresistible urge to devour all that chocolatey goodness!

Come Easter Sunday, these eggs are exchanged among friends and family. While they are primarily meant for children, adults are in on the action too, eagerly awaiting their turn to crack open an egg and revel in the surprise within. Don’t forget: the bigger and more extravagant the egg, the greater the excitement!

To give you an idea of our obsession with Easter eggs, let’s rewind to 2018 when the town of Asiago, in the Veneto region, created the world’s largest chocolate egg, tipping the scales at a jaw-dropping 7300 kilograms! It was a spectacle of epic proportions, taking center stage in the main piazza for the entire community to enjoy.

Colomba, the classic treat of Easter in Italy

The other superstar of Easter in Italy is the Colomba. Seriously, no Italian family’s Easter feast is complete without a generous slice of this dove-shaped cake and a glass of chilled bubbly spumante.

Colomba pasquale, an Italian traditional Easter cake, the counterpart of the two well-known Italian Christmas desserts, panettone and pandoro.

Now, let’s talk origin stories. Forget ancient recipes passed down from generations. Nope, apparently the Colomba’s tale is a very commercial one, born from a brilliant marketing mind! Back in the 1930s, the Milanese brand Motta created this cake as a clever solution to repurpose the machinery employed for crafting Panettone, so they could capitalise on Easter festivities without the need to wait until the following Christmas to use such tools. Their plan worked, forever changing the Easter dessert game!

Unlike its winter cousin, Colomba typically contains only candied orange peel, no raisins, and it’s topped with crunchy almonds and sugary pearls, though, nowadays you can find it in all flavours and variations. But no matter how it’s dressed up, that iconic dove shape remains.

The Italian Easter lunch

Much like Christmas, Easter in Italy brings forth a tapestry of iconic dishes, each steeped in tradition and regionalism. Alongside the ever present pasta al forno, at the heart of Easter tables across Italy lies the lamb, prepared in a myriad of ways, whether it’s oven-baked, simmered into a hearty stew, or crisply breaded and fried. Despite controversies surrounding its consumption, it takes centre stage, embodying themes of sacrifice, purity, and innocence deeply rooted in Christian symbolism.

Among the regional specialties, there’s the Liguria’s Torta Pasqualina, a savoury pie from Liguria made with the 33 layers symbolising the years of Christ’s life, and Tuscany’s Ciaccia, a soft focaccia made with cheese. Naples presents its masterpiece, the Casatiello, a savoury pie bursting with the robust flavours of cured meats and cheeses, while Sardinia offers the sweet indulgence of Pardula, made with ricotta cheese, lemon, and saffron.

Another Easter tradition, prevalent in southern Italy, is the art of decorated bread. Infused with delicate hints of citrus, this slightly sweet bread is meticulously braided and adorned with eggs, transforming into edible works of art. Known as Coccoi pintau in Sardinia and Cuddura cu l’ova in Sicily, these intricately decorated loaves not only are delicious to eat but also serve as exquisite Easter gifts.

Unique Easter Day celebrations

Easter Day in Italy is not just about dove-shaped cakes and chocolate treats; it’s also a time of captivating celebrations that add a unique flair to this joyous occasion. One of the most famous events is the Scoppio del Carro (Explosion of the Cart) in Florence, where an ancient cart loaded with fireworks parades through the streets. Then, at 11am, it stops in front of the Cathedral, where a mechanical dove, symbol of peace, ignite the pyrotechnic display in a burst of colours.

But that’s not all. In the Sicilian town of Prizzi, there’s the Ballo dei Diavoli (Dance of the Devils), with actors dressed as devils, along with Death herself, roaming the streets on a mission to snatch souls for Hell and thwart the gathering of the Virgin Mary and the Resurrected Christ, but angels intervene and “kill” them. Meanwhile, in Sulmona, the medieval tradition of La Madonna che Scappa (the Running Madonna) takes center stage reenacting the Virgin Mary’s spirited dash to embrace her resurrected son, Jesus, in the central square.

And let’s not forget Bormio, where Easter is marked by a parade of Pasquali. These are elaborately decorated floats adorned with religious motifs, proudly carried through the streets by locals dressed in traditional attire.

The Pasquetta picnic

Among the cherished Easter traditions in Italy, there’s Pasquetta. Translating to little Easter, it marks Easter Monday in Italy. Traditionally, it’s a day for gite fuori porta (day trips away from the city) and an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors with family and friends ones amidst the blossoming spring. Whether it’s lounging on sandy beaches, exploring scenic countryside, or strolling through charming parks, nature is the backdrop for this special day.

For those who cherish folklore and tradition, villages across Italy come alive with unique celebrations. From the exhilarating Ruzzolone cheese wheel race in the Umbrian town of Panicale to the delectable Sagra della Pié Fritta (a variant of the classic Piadina Romagnola) in Fontanelice, near Bologna, and the irresistible Sagra del Torrone in Tonara, Sardinia, there’s something for everyone.

Food for Pasquetta usually means a picnic with leftovers from the Easter lunch, plus an array of cold dishes ranging from succulent panini (sandwiches) stuffed with cured meats and cheeses to the unmissable insalata di riso (rice salads) or pasta fredda (pasta salad). Of course, remnants of chocolate eggs and colomba cakes round off the meal. Others opt for barbecues with grilled meat and veggies in their friends’ gardens. And if the weather is inclement, a lunch in an agriturismo is always a popular backup choice, where they usually serve fixed lunch menu of local specialties.

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