Celebrating Easter in Italy

Holy Week religious observances in Italy

Easter Mass in Saint Peter's Basilica
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If you're lucky enough to be in Italy for Easter, you won't see the famous bunny or go for an Easter egg hunt. But Easter in Italy is a huge holiday, second only to Christmas in its importance for Italians. While the days leading up to Easter in Italy include solemn processions and masses, Pasqua, as it's called in Italian, is a joyous celebration marked with rituals and traditions. La Pasquetta, the Monday after Easter Sunday, is also a public holiday throughout Italy. 

Italy - Religion - Pope Francis celebrates Easter Mass
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Easter with the Pope in Rome at Saint Peter's

On Good Friday, the Pope celebrates the Via Crucis or Stations of the Cross in Rome near the Colosseum. A huge cross with burning torches lights the sky as the stations of the cross are described in several languages. At the end, the Pope gives a blessing. Easter mass is held in every church in Italy, with the biggest and most popular celebrated by the Pope at Saint Peter's Basilica. The Papal Prefecture, the entity responsible for organizing Papal audiences, recommends ordering tickets, which are free, at least 2-6 months in advance. 

Procession of Good Friday in Enna, Sicily, Italy
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Good Friday and Easter Week Processions in Italy

Solemn religious processions are held in Italian cities and towns on the Friday or Saturday before Easter and sometimes on Easter Sunday. Many churches have special statues of the Virgin Mary and Jesus that may be paraded through the city or displayed in the main square.

Parade participants are often dressed in traditional ancient costumes, and olive branches are often used along with palm fronds in the processions and to decorate churches.

Enna, in Sicily, has a large procession on Good Friday, with more than 2,000 friars dressed in ancient costumes walking through the streets of the city. Trapani, also in Sicily, is a good place to see processions, held several days during Holy Week. Their Good Friday procession, Misteri di Trapani, is 24 hours long. These processions are very elaborate and quite dramatic.

What's believed to be the oldest Good Friday procession in Italy is in Chieti in the Abruzzo region. The procession, with Secchi's Miserere played by 100 violins, is very moving.

Some towns, such as Montefalco and Gualdo Tadino in Umbria, hold live passion plays during the night of Good Friday. Others put on plays enacting the stations of the Cross, or Via Crucis. Beautiful torchlight processions are held in Umbria in hill towns such as Orvieto and Assisi.

Firework Display At Scoppio Del Carro
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Easter in Florence and the Scoppio del Carro

In Florence, Easter is celebrated with the Scoppio del Carro (Explosion of the cart). A huge, decorated wagon is dragged through Florence by white oxen until it reaches the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence's historic center.

After mass, the Archbishop sends a dove-shaped rocket into the fireworks-filled cart, creating a spectacular display. A parade of performers in medieval costumes follows.

La Madonna Che Scappa in Piazza Abruzzo Region

Sulmona, in the Abruzzo region, celebrates Easter Sunday with La Madonna Che Scappa in Piazza. On Easter Sunday people dress in green and white, colors of peace, hope, and resurrection, and gather in the main piazza. The woman playing the Virgen Mary is dressed in black. As she moves to the fountain, doves are released and the woman is suddenly dressed in green. Music and feasting follow.

Holy Week on the Island of Sardinia

The island of Sardinia is a part of Italy steeped in tradition and a good place to experience festivals and holidays. Because of its long association with Spain, some Easter traditions are strongly linked to the Spanish Semana Santa

Easter Food in Italy

Since Easter is the end of the Lenten season, which requires sacrifice and reserve, food plays a big part in the celebrations. Traditional Easter foods across Italy may include lamb or goat, artichokes and special Easter breads that vary from region to region. Pannetone and Colomba (dove shaped) bread are often given as gifts, as are hollow chocolate eggs that usually come with a surprise inside.

Easter Monday in Italy: La Pasquetta

On Easter Monday, some cities hold dances, free concerts, or unusual games, often involving eggs. In the Umbrian hill town of Panicale, cheese is the star. Ruzzolone is played by rolling huge wheels of cheese, weighing about 4 kilos, around the village walls. The object is to get your cheese around the course using the fewest number of strokes. Following the cheese contest, there is a band in the piazza and of course, wine.

Read more about the town of Panicale

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