Buona Pasqua a Tutti
by: Deborah K. Millemaci
Easter is a season which brings hope for new beginnings in nature, people and within ones self. The solemn yet joyous observance of Easter in Italy is celebrated with a uniqueness as different as her people. The dramatic recreations of the suffering, death and joy of Christs Resurrection will be found throughout the regions.
Carnevale activities are a prelude to the Lenten season. These celebrations depict each areas historical folklore. Some of the most well known Carnevales or Carnivals will be found in Venice, Ivrea, and throughout Sicily. There are masked and costumed people at every turn. In Sicily flowers are an essential part of the festivities. Vividly colored flowers adorn the carts used in the Carnevale processions. Depending on the date of Easter, Carnevale can begin following Epiphany on January 6th in some areas. Most often though, the days preceding Ash Wednesday are set for merriment.
In the province of Avellino, the town of Montemarano holds their annual Puccinella Carnival. Puccinella is the famous white-robed clown associated with music and dance. Here you will find hundreds of people in the traditional puccinella costume: loose white smocks with trimmings or sometimes black pom-poms, pointed caps and black half masks. They resemble the famous clown in the opera Pagliacci.
The main theme surrounding Carnevale is food. Feasts are prepared in grand style before Lent begins (Ash Wednesday,) so you will see regional favorites enjoyed by all. The celebrations end on Shrove or Fat Tuesday as Ash Wednesday begins the 40 day abstinence of foods prepared with meat.
During Lent the Festa di San Giuseppe takes place on March 19th. St. Joseph is revered by the people of Sicily as one of their beloved patron saints even though his feast day is celebrated throughout Italy.
Legend says that during the Middle Ages a great drought plagued the people of Sicily. This drought made the once lush green landscape brown and barren. Crops were lost and people went hungry.
The people of Sicily turned to St. Joseph for help and promised that if the rains came, they would prepare great feasts in his honor which would be shared with all rich and poor. At midnight on March 19th, their prayers were answered. The people of Sicily kept their promise, and in gratitude, each year since the drought, have prepared a St. Josephs Altar. The altars are decorated with the finest linen, candles, flowers (especially the St. Joseph Lily), statues, wonderful meatless dishes, and sumptuous desserts.
Palm Sunday is observed by the numerous baskets of olive branches and palms that adorn the churches of Italy. The palms are blessed and then given out to the people.
Special solemn observances are recreated during Holy Week. On Holy Thursday in Catanisetta for example, the spectacular night-time procession of the Vare is held. Tall, sculptured figures (some dating back 100 years) made of papier-machŤ are carried through the streets.
On Good Friday the Pope celebrates the famous Via Crucis in Rome. Thousands of people gather near the ColossŤo and along Via dei Fori Imperali to particpate in this ceremony. A large cross, full of burning torches, lights the darkness of the sky, while the Colosseum brightens with the color of the moon. Tradition says the weather is always bad because all the world suffers together with Jesus on the cross. The Holy Father describes the passion, suffering, and death of Jesus through the stations of the cross or episodes of the Via Crucis to the throngs of people in several languages. At the end of the ceremony through his benediction, he blesses the people of the Earth with Urbis et Orbis. Urbis is for the people of Rome and Orbis is for rest of the world.
Holy Saturday (also known as the Easter Vigil), has many ceremonies occurring after sundown. It is marked with the blessing of the Holy Water (or Easter Water). Priests in towns and villages visit the local shops and homes and bless them with this holy water.
Easter Sunday is observed with much pagentry and joyous celebration. In Florence, the famous Explosion of the Cart takes place in the Piazza del Duomo, where a cart full of fireworks is exploded at the noon hour. This ceremony is ancient in its beginnings originating at the time of the Crusades and represents the fire that was lit during the Gloria of the Easter Mass. Once the wood of the fire had cooled, it was given out to all the Florentine families.
Traditional Easter foods are also an important part of Easter celebrations. Crescia (Italian Easter Bread), Pastiera di Ricotta (Easter Cheese Cake), Minestra di Pasqua (Easter Soup), Abbachio Brodettato Pasquale (Sicilys Easter Lamb), and wonderful foods such as the special Easter Breads and desserts containing eggs are a sampling of what will be found on Italian tables on Easter Sunday. The egg has been associated with new beginnings like a seed is to a flower and is a recognized part of the celebration of Easter.
These time treasured traditions are held close to the hearts of Italys children. It signifies renewal of faith and spirit to all.
Deborah maintains a web site called CAPUCINA'S ITALIAN-AMERICAN
(Portions of this article were reproduced from Italia-Enit, 1993 An Italian Year, pp. 162-167. *See also March/April 1996-1997 issues of Genealogia Italiana articles written by Deborah K. Millemaci).