Italian Easter traditions

22 March 2021
Art & Culture
tradizione pasqua

Easter is just around the corner, and in a few days we’ll be celebrating the holiday. But what are the traditions behind it? And what are the stories that have made Easter one of the most colorful celebrations in Italy?

Easter has very ancient origins related to Christianity. It celebrates the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Easter begins with Good Friday. On this day, the Crucifixion and the famous Last Supper are commemorated.

In fact, almost every Italian city celebrates the Via Crucis, or Stations of the Cross. These are a series of ten images depicting episodes in the Easter story. At each stage, scripture verses are read and the historical events that led Jesus to Calvary are reenacted.

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The solemn ritual is extremely moving. We want to make a special mention of the Pope’s Via Crucis in Rome. The journey also commemorates Jesus’ Descent from the Cross; a powerful image of this is Michelangelo’s Pietà, preserved in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.The Pope’s route takes place in the Colosseum and lasts approximately two hours. Exceptionally last year, due to Covid-19 restrictions it was celebrated at the Papal Magisterium.

Holy Saturday is a day of silence and reflection, marking Jesus’ descent into the underworld. The day concludes with the start of the Easter Vigil, the liturgy that introduces the Easter celebrations.

And that brings us to Easter Sunday. As you can imagine, this is a very special day: it traditionally celebrates Jesus’ return to life, i.e. the Resurrection.

All over Italy, thousands of traditions and rituals take place on this day.

For example, in Florence you can watch the traditional flight of the Colombina (dove) and the Scoppio del Carro.

This ritual takes place on Easter Sunday every year in Piazza del Duomo.

Legend has it that the Brindellone, a tower filled with fireworks and placed on a cart pulled by a team of oxen, was financed by the Pazzi family.

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Today, the Brindellone is a three-story structure and its triumphal appearance celebrates the city of Florence. The procession begins at Porta al Prato. Meanwhile, the procession of prelates departs from the Church of Santi Apostoli in Piazza del Limbo.

The cart is then placed between the Baptistery of San Giovanni and the Cathedral. At the climax of the ceremony, while the Gloria is sung, the archbishop lights a rocket in the form of a dove. The rocket travels along a wire from the high altar of the cathedral down the nave and out to the Brindellone in the square, igniting the fireworks and kicking off the traditional Easter celebrations.

But watch out: the Colombina’s mechanism should cause it to return to the cathedral after lighting the cart.

Apparently it’s bad luck if the Colombina fails to return: this happened in 1966, for example.

But the Easter traditions do not end there. For example, have you ever wondered why we give eggs on Easter Sunday?

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Originally the egg was important in pagan rituals: it symbolized rebirth and the reawakening of nature, and was therefore a good omen for the fertility of livestock and land.

Christian tradition has absorbed this meaning, and eggs continue to represent rebirth and resurrection. These days, in fact, eggs are often blessed during Easter ceremonies. They are then given to worshippers, to bring good luck. In some Italian cities, we can celebrate with Easter egg hunts, when colored eggs are hidden in city parks. Children can have fun finding them and spending time outdoors with their friends. Another Italian Easter tradition is the Colomba. This is a special cake made with a recipe that’s similar, if not identical, to Christmas panettone. Alboin, King of the Lombards, is thought to have been the first to enjoy this dove-shaped cake which symbolizes peace.

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However, it was not until the early 20th century that an advertiser launched the cake on the market at Easter. So this is a fairly modern tradition that caught on quickly, thanks to the colomba’s deliciousness.

Today, the Easter colomba is made using the same dough as panettone. This allows bakeries and factories to use the same machinery and equipment as at Christmas, avoiding waste. The cake is then topped with an almond and amaretti glaze.

Finally, for many people Angel Monday, or Easter Monday, means a day out. If you’re looking for some tips on how to make the most of the day and spend time outdoors, we suggest you visit THIS PAGE for advice, ideas and much more.

What about you, how do you usually celebrate Easter? Do you have any special traditions and rituals?

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