How To Celebrate Easter In Italy

Article first published as How to Celebrate Easter in Italy on Technorati.
The first signs of spring are starting to emerge, pushing away the winter greyness and bleakness. Soon there will be an explosion of colours, flowers in the fields and in gardens, the nakedness of the trees will be a distant memory and the sun will provide warmth as well as a more vibrant light.

In a few weeks, it will be time also for the Easter celebrations to take place. In Italy, this period is almost as important as Christmas. After a forty days period of prayers and abstinence known as Lent, everybody is looking forward to the long weekend culminating in the Easter feast.

Religious traditions are very much alive. In Florence, the "Scoppio del Carro" (explosion of the cart) still happens on Easter Sunday. A massive adorned wagon makes its way slowly around the city, its course ending in front of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. After the mass, a rocket resembling a dove is hurled at the cart by the Archbishop, starting the fireworks hidden under the decorations. This three hundred year old custom has pagan roots, and was meant to secure a bountiful harvest. It is still considered to be bringing luck to Florence. Well-known Good Friday processions take place for example in Chieti (Abruzzo), where the procession is thought to be the oldest one in the country, or in Enna (Sicily), with over two thousands people parading through the city in costumes. As for the most impressive and sought after mass, it is of course the one celebrated by the Pope in Rome. Tens of thousands of people congregate in Saint Peter's Square every year.

Easter dishes differ from region to region, but have a common base. Eggs will definitely be part of the meal as they epitomise fertility, renewal and life, and it seems that every part of Italy possesses its own recipe of the Easter pie! Lamb being the symbol of birth and the Shepherd, its roasted meat finds its place on the table too.

As far as "dolce" (sweets and desserts) are concerned, chocolate rabbits are rarely seen in Italy, but gorgeous chocolate eggs are. You can easily find handmade ones and will marvel at how beautifully decorated they are. No wonder they are so popular and commonly given as gifts. Panettone, a cake-like bread flavoured with raisins and candied fruit, is usually eaten at Christmas, but can be enjoyed at Easter too, in Tuscany for example. However, at this time of the year it is usually replaced by its lovely dove-shaped version, the "Colomba Pasquale". Its dough is very similar but without raisins, and pearl sugar and almonds are added on top.

Easter Monday, or "Pasquetta" (Little Easter), is also a favourite. It is a more quiet day spent with family and friends too, usually eating leftovers in a relaxed atmosphere, in the form of a picnic weather permitting!
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