For some foreigners it may be hard to understand how important Easter is for Italians. In may not be very big in the USA, but in Italy it is the second most important religious holiday after Christmas. From a strictly religious point of view it is even more important: in fact Easter, being the celebration of the resurrection of Christ, is the celebration of the mystery that is the basis of the Christian faith. Easter for Italians has the same importance that Thanksgiving Day has for Americans.
When does the Easter celebration begin? The Nicean Council decided in A.D. 325 that Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. Unless the first full moon also rose on a Sunday, in which Easter would be celebrated the Sunday after that. For over 1500 years we have continued to mark the celebration of Easter based on these calculations.
Although Carnivale officially starts in January and lasts up until Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent), the last three days before Lent are especially festive. Carnivale is best known to Americans as Mardi Gras, which are based upon the celebration of Shrove or "Fat" Tuesday (Martedi Grasso).
Pancakes are a traditional Shrove Tuesday feast food. Older church doctrine decreed that Catholics give up more than meat dishes for Lent - eggs, milk, and even fats were also restricted for the observant. Because Shrove Tuesday is the last day until Easter that people could spoil themselves (and in order to use up the dairy products and fats in the home so they wouldn't go to waste) pancakes soon became a traditional Shrove Tuesday feast.
Lent (Quaresima) marks the forty days of fast and abstinence before Easter. Lent is marked with the Feast of St. Joseph (Festa di San Giuseppe) on March 19th and Palm Sunday (Domencia della Palme), in which palms and olive branches are blessed by the parish priest and given out to the congregants. Many churches still follow the tradition of having the priest knock three time from the outside of the closed church doors to symbolize Jesus' entry in to Jerusalem.
The local parish priests for sure go round knocking on the neighbourhood's door. It is traditional for priests to visit their parishioners and bless each home with the Easter Blessing.
Holy Friday (Venerdi' Santo) is often marked in the churches with a ritual washing of the feet, with the priest symbolizing the role of Jesus, and twelve church members symbolizing the role of the apostles.
Easter Sunday begins with a bang in Florence - quite literally! The three hundred year old traditional "explosion of the carte (Scoppio del Carro) has its roots in the pagan ritual of ensuring a good harvest" and is now considered a bringer of good luck for the city of Florence.
Traditional Easter meals vary from region to region, but eggs and roasted lamb are common elements everywhere. Eggs represent life, fertility, and renewal, all of which are essential symbols of Easter. Dyed eggs grace many Easter tables, and eggs are often found in soups and in a traditional Easter pie (Torta Pasqualina). Roasted lamb, as a symbol of birth and the Shepard, is a traditional main course. Chocolate bunnies are not common, but beautifully decorated chocolate eggs are a traditional Easter treat and gift! Chocolate eggs are a symbol of Easter even for non religious people. Everybody gets an egg for their dear ones. Most chocolate eggs are industry produced. Every serious cake shop produces finely hand made eggs, using the best chocolate they can get. Inside each egg is hidden a small gift. Or not so small, depending on how luxury the egg is! It is also possible to request a custom made egg, selecting in advance the gift it will contain. Many engagements began in Easter, with an engagement ring hidden in an egg.
The official Easter cake is the Eastern Dove (Colomba) that represents peace.
Easter Monday, also known as Little Easter (Pasquetta) is also an official Italian holiday that is often spent enjoying the fresh Spring weather with family and friends in picnics. The Racing Of The Egg (Palio dell'Uovo) is a traditional Easter Monday game in the town of Tredozio. And in Barano d'Ischia, a traditional dance called the Festa della Ndrezzata takes place on the same day.
By Faith Harper