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A huge explosion will be detonated Easter Sunday in front of the magnificent green- and white-marbled neogothic church in Florence's centro storico. Instead of running in fear from a terrorist's bomb, though, thousands of spectators will cheer the noise and smoke, for they will be witnesses to the annual Scoppio del Carro-explosion of the cart.
For over 300 years the Easter celebration in Florence has included this ritual, during which an elaborate wagon, a structure built in 1679 and standing two to three stories high, is dragged through Florence behind a fleet of white oxen decorated in garlands. The pageantry ends in front of the Basilica di S. Maria del Fiore, where Mass is held. During the midday service, a holy fire is stoked by ancient stone chips from the Holy Sepulcher, and the Archbishop lights a dove-shaped rocket which travels down a wire and collides with the cart in the square, setting off spectacular fireworks and explosions to the cheers of all. A big bang ensures a good harvest, and a parade in medieval costume follows.
Tradition and ritual play a strong role in Italian culture, especially during celebrations such as Easter, the Christian holiday based on the pagan festival called Eostur-Monath. No matter what date Easter falls on, there are many ceremonies and culinary customs that are religiously upheld. Some traditions are regional, for instance the art of palm weaving, in which decorative crosses and other designs are created from the palms received on Palm Sunday.
Easter Ceremonies in Italy
At Vatican City there are a series of solemn events that culminate in Easter Sunday Mass. During the spring holy days that center around the vernal equinox there are also many other rites practiced throughout the country that have their roots in historic pagan rituals. In addition, the Monday following Easter is an official Italian holiday called la Pasquetta, so if traveling be prepared for another day of repose.
On Easter Monday the Palio dell'Uovo is a competition where eggs are the stars of the games.
The Corse Rusticane are conducted, fascinating races with a special breed of horses famous for their blonde manes ridden by youths wearing the local costumes of their towns. Before the race, the participants parade through the streets of the town followed by a band and folk dance groups.
On Easter Monday the 'Ndrezzata takes place-a dance which revives the fights against the Saracens.
On the Saturday before Easter is a procession dedicated to the Madonna del Belvedere during which the 'Nzeghe contest takes place: banners must be hurled as far as possible.
Religious rites dating back to the Spanish domination (fifteenth through seventeenth century) take place in this Sicilian town. On Good Friday, the different religious confraternities gather around the main church and over 2,000 friars wearing ancient costumes silently parade through the streets of the city. On Easter Sunday, the Paci ceremony takes place: the statue of the Virgin and that of Jesus Christ are first taken to the main square and then into the church where they stay for a week.
In Italy, the expression "Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi" is frequently heard ("Christmas with your family, Easter with your own choice of friends"). Oftentimes, this implies sitting down to a dinner that starts with minestra di Pasqua, the traditional beginning of the Neapolitan Easter meal.
Other classic Easter recipes include carciofi fritti (fried artichokes), a main course of either capretto o agnellino al forno (roasted goat or baby lamb) or capretto cacio e uova (kid stewed with cheese, peas, and eggs), and carciofi e patate soffritti, a delicious vegetable side dish of sautéed artichokes with baby potatoes.
A holiday meal in Italy would not be complete without a traditional dessert, and during Easter there are several. Italian children finish their dinner with a rich bread shaped like a crown and studded with colored Easter egg candies. La pastiera Napoletana, the classic Neapolitan grain pie, is a centuries-old dish with innumerable versions, each made according to a closely guarded family recipe. Another treat is the Colomba cake, a sweet, eggy, yeasted bread (like panettone plus candied orange peel, minus the raisins, and topped with sugared and sliced almonds) shaped in one of the most recognizable symbols of Easter, the dove. The Colomba cake takes on this form precisely because la colomba in Italian means dove, the symbol of peace and an appropriate finish to Easter dinner.
Uova di Pasqua
Although Italians do not decorate hard-boiled eggs nor have chocolate bunnies or pastel marshmallow chicks, the biggest Easter displays in bars, pastry shops, supermarkets, and especially at chocolatiers are brightly wrapped uova di Pasqua-chocolate Easter eggs-in sizes that range from 10 grams (1/3 ounce) to 8 kilos (nearly 18 pounds). Most of them are made of milk chocolate in a mid-range, 10-ounce size by industrial chocolate makers.
Some producers distinguish between their chocolate eggs for children (sales numbers are a closely guarded secret, but the market for these standard quality eggs is said to be shrinking with Italy's birthrate) and expensive "adult" versions. All except the tiniest eggs contain a surprise. Grown-ups often find their eggs contain little silver picture frames or gold-dipped costume jewelry. The very best eggs are handmade by artisans of chocolate, who offer the service of inserting a surprise supplied by the purchaser. Car keys, engagement rings, and watches are some of the high-end gifts that have been tucked into Italian chocolate eggs in Italy.
Italian Easter Vocabulary List
Click to hear the highlighted word spoken by a native speaker.
- Buona Pasqua-Happy Easter
- il coniglietto-bunny rabbit
- la crocifissione-Crucifixion
- la pace-peace
- la Pasquetta-Easter Monday
- la primavera-spring
- la resurrezione-Resurrection
- la settimana santa-Holy Week
- l'Ultima Cena-Last Supper
- le uova-eggs
- Venerdì Santo-Holy Friday