“Toc, toc, toc.” Wiping my hands on my apron, I went to the door wondering who would visit so close to lunch. “Buon giorno,” I greeted the unexpected visitor hesitantly. “Can I help you?” not really knowing what to say or do. I’d never been visited by a priest before! “Well, I’m here for the house blessing,” he informed me. “The blessing?” I asked stupidly. (Surely looking as dumb as I felt.)
Italy has many Easter traditions.
But as that was my first Italian Easter, I had no notion of the Easter house blessing, and little idea of other Italian Easter traditions, sacred or secular.
The religious aspect is still foremost.
With the house blessing playing a primary role. Because according to Roman Catholic tradition, the house is not properly blessed for the year until the priest comes to pray over it and sprinkle it with holy water.
Easter week processions also hold a prominent place. These elaborate and solemn affairs often include parishioners garbed in traditional local costumes carrying candles and statues of Mary or Christ through the street on Good Friday or throughout the week.
And the Pope’s Easter sermon is paramount. Many make a point of traveling to Rome for the Pope’s Easter sermon and annual blessing. So popular is this event that ordering tickets at least 2-6 months in advance is recommended ! Those that can’t go are expected to attend their own church or tune in to the Vatican by TV, internet, or radio.
But secular traditions are important too.
Church is usually followed a big dinner, often with pasta and lamb. And the day spent with family or friends. Because as the saying goes, “Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi voi.” (Christmas with family, Easter with whom you want.) Even though I personally think most Italians still prefer celebrating with family.
And kids decorate hard-boiled eggs.
Easter egg coloring goes back a long way. In ancient Rome they believed all life comes from the egg and so gifted them during their spring festivals. After they first dipped the boiled eggs in homemade dyes made of foods like red onion skins, beets, and carrots. But in Christian tradition Easter eggs were originally dyed red, in memory of Christ’s blood. They later came to symbolize both Christ’s resurrection and new life, and were eaten in celebration of this.
But you won’t find goody baskets or chocolate bunnies.
Or marshmallow Peeps, jelly beans or egg hunts. They’re not a part of the Italian Easter. The boiled eggs usually grace the table in a place of honor, supplying part of the meal, or get reserved for the evening meal.
But the special chocolate eggs and Colomba cakes more than make up for it!
Italy is known for these beautiful, often elaborately decorated and exquisitely wrapped eggs. Some of which are downright huge, up to 6.5 feet tall (almost 2 meters) and weighing in at 550 lbs (250 kg)!
The larger hollow eggs contain prizes, and it’s hard to say whether kids like the prize or the chocolate most! But choose carefully. Boy’s eggs have cars or sports related items. While a girl’s might contain Peppa Pig or Hello Kitty.
We even have Easter eggs for adults too, holding things like ties or costume jewelry. But if you’d like something more special, the artisan chocolate makers will concoct one with your own personalized gift inside. Some have even contained elaborate gifts like fine jewelry or tickets to exotic places!
Plus, most restaurants and coffee bars raffle off giant eggs! Buy a ticket, and if you’re the lucky winner you can eat chocolate to your heart’s content!
Or try some Colomba Cake.
These special dove-shaped panettone cakes are just like the Christmas panettone, but only sold at Easter time. And remember if you go visiting, it’s traditional to never go empty-handed. Take a Colomba Cake along!
And then you’ll get to enjoy the Pasquetta!
The Easter holiday typically starts with Good Friday, continuing through Pasquetta, meaning “little Easter.” Also known as Easter Monday this traditional picnic day is a great favorite! Although some cities also hold festivals with dances, concerts, or games, food, and good local wine!
Any more chocolate eggs take center stage. But I prefer the pasta and lamb! And the tiramisù, and coffee, and wine… But mostly I’m just thankful for all that Easter means, and that because of it we can always live in hope!