In Italy, Easter (Pasqua) is the second biggest holiday after Christmas.
It is celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon following Spring Equinox. It is also linked to the Carnevale celebration, at the end of which the period of Lent (Quaresima) starts. This period symbolizes the 40 days that Christ spent in the desert before His Death on the Cross. Consequently, it terminates on Easter Sunday.
The week leading to Easter is called Holy Week (Settimana Santa), and has a calendar rich in events. They focus on the Passion (meant as suffering) and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The end of this period is marked with a massive feast on Pasqua and Pasquetta (Easter Monday).
Holy Week: La Settimana Santa
Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday (La Domenica delle Palme) when olive branches are blessed during Mass and then distributed to the people. This is a reminder of the day when the Messahia arrived in Jerusalem.
Although every day of the week is marked with the commemoration of the last days of Jesus’ life, the most significant celebrations will take place on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
Holy Thursday is about the symbolic reenactment of the Last Supper with the Apostles. During Mass, the Priest washes the feet of twelve members of the community to remind them about humility and sacrifice.
On Holy Friday, the Procession of the Via Crucis takes place. Every region and every town has a different way of bringing back to life the last day of Jesus, carrying his cross.
Holy Saturday is dedicated to reflection and silence to contemplate the death of the Lord. At around 10 pm, Easter Vigil starts with the most important Mass of the year that carries on until early Sunday morning. A Candle is kindled, reminding all that Christ is light and life.
Let the celebration and the feast begin on Easter Sunday (Pasqua)! Solemn Mass is held in all churches, and right after, all families sit together and eat one of the most generous meals of the year.
On Easter Monday (Pasquetta), friends usually gather together to carry on eating and celebrating with a joyful picnic or barbecue, weather permitting.
Easter on the Italian’s tables
Sunday Easter feast changes from Region to Region, however roast lambs (symbol of birth) and eggs (symbols of fertility and renewal) are inevitably on all tables. Eggs can be dyed and painted as a decoration, used in soups or quiches (Torta Pasqualina). Still, no house is left without a Chocolate Egg.
They do come in every size, from commercial to handcrafted, and they all have gifts inside. For those who are not keen on chocolate, they can finish their meal with a slice of Colomba: a Dove shaped cake with candied fruits.
Traditional food in Naples starts on a Thursday night with a mussel soup. The origin of this meal traces back to King Ferdinand at the beginning of 1800. The soup is very simple and affordable for everyone: cooked with tomatoes, chili peppers, and some toasted bread on the side.
The unmissable on the table, however, are the Casatiello, the Lamb with potatoes, and finally the Pastiera Napoletana.
Casatiello is a round bread dough, stuffed with traditional cold meats, cheese, and decorated with nested boiled eggs. It’s prepared on Friday and then eaten on Saturday and on Easter day as well.
Lamb is probably the most common main dish in all traditions at this time of the year. However, in Naples, it can be replaced as well with a baby goat: il Capretto alla Napoletana. The meat will be marinated in red wine and herbs for a whole night and then cooked a couple of hours before the feast begins.
The real Queen of the table, however, will always be the Pastiera Napoletana.
This delicacy probably traces back to Pagan times to celebrate Spring, and it was then adopted by the Christians. The main ingredients are sheep’s ricotta, cooked whole grain wheat, eggs, fruit candies, honey, and orange blossoms water.
This heavenly mixture fills a delicate shortbread pastry. The perfect balance is assured to conquer your palate at first bite.
If you are planning to visit Italy during this exceptional time, we highly recommend you to book plenty in advance. Hotels get overbooked really fast.
You also want to check bus and train timetables, as often transports only run a few times a day during Easter and Easter Monday.