Buona Pasqua!

Food, folklore and more

Georgette Jupe-Pradier
March 29, 2012

Easter has somehow arrived abruptly as 2012 speeds along at a pace rivaling that of Lewis Hamilton in the Formula One. The onset of the Christian holiday should hardly be a surprise: since AD 325, when the Nicean Council decided that Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal (spring) equinox, the Roman Catholic church (and then Protestant denominations) has marked the celebration of Easter based on these calculations. Accordingly, in 2012, Good Friday falls on April 6, Pasqua on April 8, and Pasquetta, Easter Monday, also a holiday in Italy, is April 9.



Pasqua is still considered the second most important holiday in Italy after Christmas. After the street parties of Carnival, 40 days of fasting for Lent and the onset of spring, Easter provides the perfect opportunity to celebrate with the locals and feast on culinary specialties. Unlike the family-focused Christmas traditions, this holiday can be celebrated con chi vuoi (‘ with whomever you like'). In Italy, religious traditions, food and celebration of spring are all part of the the long holiday.


Religious celebrations and local folklore


In Rome, a world-famous solemn procession from the Colosseum to the Palatine Hill commemorates the 14 stages of the cross. A meditation is read at each of the stations, which are laid out around the exterior of the Colosseum. The custom of doing the ‘stations of the cross' at the Colosseum emerged in the eigtheenth century as a way to honor the ancient martyrs who were killed there. The event will be broadcast on TV and on the Vatican's official website (www.vatican.va). Here in Tuscany, on Good Friday in Grassina (Bagno a Ripoli), some 600 locals in costume annually present a live reenactment of the Passion of Christ.


Note that you won't hear church bells ringing:  the church bells of Florence fall silent from Good Friday night to Sunday morning.


On Easter Sunday, while the pope blesses the people assembled in the vast St. Peter's Square in Rome, Florence also has a large public event: the famous Scoppio del Carro (‘explosion of the cart'). This tradition originated after the first crusade, when Pazzino de' Pazzi, a native Florentine soldier, entered the holy city of Jerusalem and became the first man to climb the city walls. Rewarded for his bravery, he received pieces of stone said to be from the Holy Sepulcher, the site where Jesus is believed to have been buried after the crucifixion. Once home, he claimed to have used these stones to start a holy fire, which in the 1300s was transported to the Duomo by cart. In the sixteenth century, Florentines packed the cart full of fireworks and set it off using a fuse in the semblance of a dove flying from the Duomo: the colombina. The ‘explosion,' which long took place at midnight, ushering in Easter morning, is supposed to guarantee a good harvest. Today, every Easter Sunday the cart is still paraded from Porta al Prato to the Duomo by a team of white oxen, along with musicians and locals in historical dress. (For more information, see page 7 and 17 this issue and www.comune.fi.it.)


Easter celebrations continue well into Pasquetta. For example, on the evening of Easter Monday, after an all-day market and a parade featuring historic costumes, the historical Palio dei Botti takes place in Bibbona. In this high-energy event, the participants, representing different neighborhoods of the town, compete to push barrels up the narrow streets (for information, call 058/6600699).




The traditional local Easter feast usually includes filled pasta in broth, artichokes, roasted lamb and the cake, the colomba. This famous, dove-shaped Easter cake is made with yeasted bread and candied orange peels, and is topped with coarse sugar and almonds. It will surely show up on the table after Easter lunch or dinner, along with other such traditional desserts as crostata and focaccia pasquale. It is also a long-standing tradition in Italy to prepare boiled eggs and bring them to mass on Easter Sunday for a blessing from the priest (see page 20 for details on this custom and other Easter foods). 


Chocolate Easter eggs are given to regardless of age, from babies to grandmothers, and come in sizes, ranging from miniature to elephantine. Sold in supermarkets and specialty stores, they are usually hollow, with a trinket hidden in the cavity.


Spring also marks the grand return of Tuscany's sagre, celebrations of the wealth of local specialties across the region. Not surprisingly, there is a sagra for eggs: the Panicagliora, festival of boiled eggs (April 9, Marliana, Pistoia; call 057/269851). Also in the province of Pistoia is a sagre of eel, fried frogs and others such items (see www.prolocolarciano.it).




There are plenty of ways to enjoy Easter, the first long weekend in spring. Warmer temperatures push many Italians to the coast. In Livorno, one of the private beaches, Bagni Lido di Ardenza, offers free entry to the public from 10am to 4pm until April 10. For those who prefer to take in spring in the great outdoors, there is the Fourth Annual Tuscany Walking Festival, from April 6 to May 8. The festival takes place in national parks of the Tuscan Archipelago and Val di Cornia. These trekking trips through nature in the Tuscan islands are meant to encourage people to discover the beautiful scenery of the area off-season, with the help of free expert guides. (For more information, see www.tuscanywalkingfestival.it or call 056/5919411.)


The nature train through the Siena Crete is a perfect opportunity to travel slowly through the beautiful countryside. Passengers can get off at various quaint stations to visit smaller, historic villages or enjoy impromptu wine tastings at local farms. (See www.terresiena.it or call 057/7207413.)


Tuscany abounds in thermal springs. To find out which of the region's 40-some thermal spas are offering special ‘Easter' packages to those seeking hot baths and wellness treatments; see www.turismo.intoscana.it (in English) and make the most of the healing properties of Tuscany's thermal waters!



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