How to Celebrate Easter in Italy
Generally, Easter in Italy is celebrated for two days: Pasqua (Easter Sunday) and Pasquetta (Easter Monday). However, many other religious ceremonies are observed in the days and weeks leading up to Easter.
Easter Sunday’s date varies because it falls on the Sunday following the first full moon of spring each year.
This year Easter will be celebrated Sunday, March 31, 2024.
Easter in Agrigento, Italy / Photo from WIkimedia Commons
Easter is a Christian holiday that commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Even though it is a religious holiday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday are national holidays in Italy, and as a result, many banks, businesses, and stores will be closed.
Other important religious days are celebrated as part of the Easter season and are part of Italian culture.
Carnevale and Ash Wednesday are two important holidays celebrated in the weeks leading up to Easter. Carnevale marks the beginning of Lent and is celebrated by adults and children wearing festive masks and costumes. Ash Wednesday is a day of repentance. Ash is placed on the forehead with a blessing and dictum, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust, you shall return.”
Worshippers carry olive branches on Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter. Palm Sunday commemorates Christ’s entry into Jerusalem before his arrest when his followers laid palm branches in front of him. It is a symbolic reminder for Christians of their welcome of Jesus Christ into their lives. For lack of palm leaves in many areas, they use olive branches as a substitute.
Holy week begins on Holy Thursday, the night Judas betrayed him, and he was arrested; Jesus broke bread at the Last Supper. Traditionally, meat should not be eaten during this time, but fish, pasta and vegetables are served.
Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece The Last Supper was painted here in Milan between 1494 and 1498 under the rule of Ludovico il Moro and is housed inside the Sant Maria Della Grazia church. Visits are limited, and tickets for The Last Supper must be booked up to 3 weeks in advance.
Good Friday commemorates the day of Jesus’s crucifixion and is also known as the day of the Via Crucis. It is traditionally celebrated with processions and torch-carrying ceremonies.
On Saturday night before Easter, church bells ring at midnight, celebrating the end of Lent.
Easter Sunday commemorates the crucifixion and celebrates the resurrection of Christ. Easter Sunday lunch is usually a fine feast with rice, pasta, lamb, vegetables and plenty of wine.
Easter Monday celebrates the resurrection of Christ and is also a national holiday. It is customary to prepare a family picnic in the countryside or have barbecues with friends in Italy.
Traveling During Easter in Italy
There is an Italian saying, “Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi,” meaning, “Christmas with your family, Easter with whoever you want.”
It helps answer the dilemma many couples face when planning holiday get-togethers with their in-laws! Like Christmas, the Easter period is full of festivities and cheer. Easter heralds the start of spring and a time for outdoor activities. With the arrival of nicer weather and warmer temperatures, Easter is also a time for festivals, concerts, and religious processions.
As Easter always falls on a Sunday, it’s the perfect opportunity for a long weekend getaway.
If you do decide to travel to Italy at Easter time, be forewarned that it is a busy travel season. When traveling by car, depart early in the morning or late at night to avoid road traffic. If traveling by inter-city train, book your place in advance and if traveling by plane, get to the airport with plenty of time to spare as check-in and security lines are saturated.
Where to Celebrate Easter in Italy
Bormio, known for its ski resorts, thermal spas and luxury hotels, has a beautiful, traditional Easter celebration. In Bormio, you can see the Pasquali on Easter Sunday: a parade with floats decorated with flowers carried by people dressed in traditional costumes.
In Tredozio, a small town of just 1100 inhabitants in the Province of Forlì-Cesena, there is the Palio dell’uovo on Easter Monday with games, battles, and parades with floats. The main events are the battle of the raw eggs, the traditional egg beating contest, find the egg in the haystack and the national hard-boiled egg eater championship.
On Good Friday, a procession parades il Croficisso Miracoloso, the Miraculous Crucifix, through the ancient center of Como. Soldiers closed the churches in 1529 during the Spanish occupation, but this wooden crucifix broke the chains on the Saint Bartholomew gates and has since protected worshipers. The crucifix is kept at Como’s Sanctuary Santa Maria Annunciata and is brought to the Duomo cathedral of Como for Easter. From Holy Thursday to Easter Monday, a street market is also held in Como.
Florence is famous for the Explosion of the Cart, which dates back to the first crusade. On Easter Sunday, a mechanical dove strikes a cart in front of the Florence Cathedral, igniting fireworks.
On Easter Sunday, Rome, is the center of the universe. The Via Crucis del Papa in the Vatican City is the procession led by the Pope from St. Peter’s Square to the Colosseum on Good Friday. Masses with the Pope at St. Peter’s Square can host up to 80,000 people, but Easter Sunday Mass is traditionally celebrated at St Peter’s Basilica. Places are limited, so book up to 2 months in advance. Tickets are free and can be booked here.
Sicily comes to life with rich and colorful ancient customs, costumes and masks parading through the city streets during the Easter season. The Real Maestranza procession in Caltanissetta dates to the Spanish occupation, the procession of the Mysteries in Trapani, and the celebrations in Prizzi and Adrano are among the most traditional.
Food to Try During Easter in Italy
Traditionally the main dish of the Italian Easter meal is lamb. In many regions, the main meal is cosciotto al forno con le patate, roast leg of lamb with potatoes. In Lazio, crispy lamb ribs, known as abbacchio a scottadito, are served, and in Trentino, polpettine pasquali, Easter meatballs, are made with ground lamb meat, parsley, shallots and rosemary.
Torta Pasqualina is a savory pie made of 33 layers of phyllo pastry representing the number of Christ’s years on earth. Based on an ancient Genovese recipe that dates back to the 15th century, it is seasoned with marjoram and other herbs and filled with chard or artichokes, eggs, or both.
Easter is the feast of spring and the awakening of nature, and the egg is a symbol of renewed life and fertility. Pastry shops and confectioners will have beautifully decorated chocolate eggs and cakes at Easter.
Colomba Pasquale, a dove-shaped Italian cake, was created as an Easter version of the Christmas panettone and pandoro. Instead of raisins, it has candied peel and pearl sugar on top, much like panettone. As with panettone, it takes a long time to create since the dough must ferment and rise slowly enough to triple its initial bulk. During the Easter season, it’s served as a snack or for breakfast.
Traditional in Lazio and Campania, the Casatiello is a rustic cake filled with various meats and cheeses. Traditionally, it is eaten on Holy Saturday evening; however, the suet in the mixture keeps it soft for several days.
Easter in Italy is an excellent time to celebrate with friends and family, learn about Italian traditions and try some new foods. Have fun with it and Buona Pasqua, Happy Easter!
Article by Celia Abernethy for Easy Milano
Featured Image by Bee Felten-Leidel
Easy Milano is the online publication for the international community of Milan. We offer practical tips, key information and essential insights about living and working in Italy. Easy Milano has been assisting English speaking expats in Milan since 1999.
Follow us on Facebook - Instagram - Newsletter