What are the traditions of easter in Italy? Our guest writer Ilaria from beautiful Venice tells all!
Easter is a great time to visit Italy, with festivals and celebrations taking place all over the country. Together with Christmas, Easter is one of the two most important festivals in the Christian year.
In Italy, Easter is a strictly observed religious celebration, characterised by specific rites and rituals. Some of them are performed throughout the whole country (such as the traditional procession on Good Friday), but there’s also a variety of town festivals and street celebrations taking place during the Settimana Santa (Holy Week) which are part of the local folklore. One of the most characteristic street representations is probably the traditional “scoppio del carro” (Cart Burst or Easter Fire) in Florence, a ceremony dating back to 1099.
On Easter morning, a monumental, richly adorned oxcart arrives in Piazza del Duomo followed by a traditional procession of trumpet-players and performers dressed in traditional customs. Then, during the mass, the bishop lights an "Iron Dove" (Colombina) with flames and slides it along a wire that connects the major altar to the cart outside. The Colombina ignites the cart, which will burst out in all its magnificence, and then slides back to the altar.
However, for most people Easter means much more than a religious celebration, representing indeed a major occasion for conviviality and family gathering. Like Christmas, Easter day is closely associated with excellent food and special culinary traditions, which Italian people are very proud of. Let’s have a look at them!
On Easter Sunday, after the Holy Mass, people usually gather for the traditional Easter lunch. The menu varies from region to region, but a typical Easter lunch will usually consist of at least 4 courses;
Starters (usually hard-boiled eggs followed by a selection of local cold cuts and cheese), a first main course (chicken broth with tortellini and meat lasagne are the most popular dishes), roast lamb as a second course served with seasonal vegetables, and finally the traditional Easter cake, the colomba, followed by Easter egg. To pay homage to the spring, most Easter dishes are usually flavoured with fresh herbs, especially home-made pies such as torta pasqualina (a traditional Easter pie filled with cheese and vegetables, typical of Genoa). Torta pasqualina is usually eaten during the traditional Easter Monday picnic, as on that day it is customary to go with one’s family or friends for an outing to the hills, the country or the lakeside.
The colomba (the name derives from its characteristic dove shape) is a simple but delicious cake made of leavened pastry with candies, topped with frosting and sugar grains. Its shape is highly symbolic, as doves are typically associated with peace, but is also said to result from an ancient folk legend set in the sixth Century, according to which Olbino (King of the Lombards) received a dove shaped cake on Easter Eve as a symbol of peace, and decided to stop his siege of the city of Pavia.
Another popular Easter cake in the south of Italy is pastiera napoletana, which is typical of the area of Naples and is regarded as the real masterpiece of Neapolitan pastry making. The basis of the pastiera is traditionally obtained soaking wheat and then cooking it into milk and sugar. The resulting pastry will be then enriched with ricotta cheese, milk, eggs and citrus candies. The origin of the pastiera napoletana is associated with a fascinating story as well, according to which seven maidens would have offered the 7 ingredients of the pastiera (each of them bearing a symbolic meaning) to the mermaid Partenope: wheat and flour as significant yields of the Earth, eggs as symbol of life renewal, ricotta cheese as a gift from shepherds, citrus flavours and sugar recalling spring scent.
If you can’t spend Easter in Italy, try one of the following recipes and enjoy the traditional dishes of Italian Easter tradition at home! For more information about our Italian cooking holidays visit our website, we offer courses in Tuscany, Bologna, Sicily and Puglia - which are sure to wet your appetite!