While you probably won't see the Easter bunny if you are traveling to Italy this Easter, you will have the opportunity to experience many wonderful Pasqua traditions. The days prior to Easter host solemn processions and masses while Easter day is a joyous celebration. The Monday following Easter, la Pasquetta, is also an Italian holiday.
Many towns host religious processions on the Friday and Saturday before Easter. Solemn in nature, these processions have special statues of Jesus and the Virgin that are paraded through the city. Parade participants are often dressed in traditional ancient costumes. On Good Friday, in Enna, Sicily, more than 2,000 friars dress in ancient costumes and walk through the streets. The Good Friday procession, Misteri di Trapani, in Trapani, Sicily is 24 hours long.
Rome is the top Italian destination for Easter week as the most popular Easter mass is held by the Pope at St. Peter's Basilica. Mass typically starts at 10:15 A.M. and the Pope gives the Easter message and blessing at noon in the central loggia of St. Peter's Basilica. On Good Friday, the Pope gives mass at 5 P.M. and, immediately following, begins his walk to remember Christ's Via Crucis, Stations of the Cross, making 14 stops along the way. He ends at the Colosseum to give his blessing.
One of the oldest Easter traditions in Italy is La Festa del Carro in Florence. During the Crusades, Pazzino di Ranieri de' Pazzi, a Florentine knight, raised the Holy Cross banner in Jerusalem and received pieces of flint from the Holy Sepulcher of Christ for his bravery. Upon his return to Florence, these stones were used to light the Easter Vigil sacred fire. Today, Florentines commemorate this event with a procession on Easter Sunday in which a 30-foot tall antique cart is pulled by white oxen through their city. Once the cart reaches Santa Maria Del Fiore in Piazza del Duomo, a dove-shaped rocket holding an olive branch is shot towards a cart loaded with fireworks, setting off the scoppio (boom). This event is meant to bring a bountiful harvest, stable civic life and growing business.
Obviously food plays a big part in the Easter holiday. Traditional Easter foods include lamb, artichokes, and special Easter breads: Pannetone and the dove-shaped Colomba. And for dessert? Large, hollow chocolate eggs that typically come with a surprise inside are popular Easter treats.
The Monday after Easter, Pasquetta, is a jovial celebration. According to tradition, people are free to celebrate as they wish. It is common to have a picnic or barbeque and many natives head to the countryside or the seaside. Easter Monday is a time to gather with friends and have fun.
Easter in Italy is a perfect time to celebrate long-standing traditions. Visiting during this time of year will no doubt yield a wonderfully unique experience.