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The essential guide to an Italian Easter

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The essential guide to an Italian Easter
A Good Friday parade in Procida, off Naples. Photo: Mario Laporta/AFP
16:53 CEST+02:00
Easter in Italy means religion, but also friends, family, and food. And of course, it wouldn't be an Italian holiday without a healthy dose of curious, centuries-old customs. Here's The Local's guide to the Italian Easter traditions you need to know.

Holy Week

The week before Easter Sunday, known as Holy Week, is particularly important in Sicily and Sardinia due to their historic associations with Spain. The Sardinian custom, Sa Chida Santa, borrows from Catalan traditions, with different rituals and processions for each day of the week.

Photo: osmar01/DepositPhotos

The Pope marks the Thursday of Holy Week – the night of the Last Supper – by washing the feet of others, as Jesus did with his disciples. In previous years Pope Francis has washed the feet of young offenders, refugees and former mafiosi; this year he'll be washing inmates' feet at a prison in Rome. 

For most Italians, though, you'll find the celebrations don't get going until Easter weekend itself.

Good Friday

The first thing to know about Good Friday in Italy is that it's not a public holiday in Italy – sorry. It's a day of mourning, marking Jesus's death, rather than of celebration.

For that reason, there aren't holy masses held, but instead parishes celebrate the Via Crucis or Stations of the Cross, or hold a solemn liturgy. Keep an eye out for the crosses in the church, which will likely be covered in dark-coloured cloth.

IN PICTURES: Easter celebrations and festivals across Italy


Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

In Rome, Pope Francis will say a mass at the Vatican on Friday afternoon before leading the Stations of the Cross procession from the Colosseum amphitheatre to the Palatine Hill, accompanied by a huge cross covered in burning torches. The multilingual event is typically attended by tens of thousands of Romans and tourists alike.

Processions

Elsewhere in Italy, the Via Crucis is celebrated with processions and parades on Friday and Saturday. Those taking part may wear costumes, carry torches, crosses or statues of saints, act out Biblical scenes along the way, or even flagellate themselves as penance.

Chieti in Abruzzo boasts one of the oldest parades, dating back to at least 840 AD.

Photo: BigDreamStudio/DepositPhotos

In Sicily, 2,000 friars join the procession through the streets of Enna, one of the largest in the country. And if you've got the stamina, try the 24-hour parade in Trapani, where floats depicting biblical scenes pass through the town's streets.

Passion plays

While some towns hold processions to recall Christ's suffering, others go a step further and act out important events from the Easter story, including his trial and death. Participants usually dress in historic costumes, and the staging will vary from the very simply to the dramatic and elaborate, depending where you are.


Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

"Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi"

Here's a saying you're sure to hear over the Easter period, literally translating as: "Christmas with your relatives, Easter with whoever you want". Breathe a sigh of relief if you weren't feeling up to another holiday with your in-laws: most Italians spend the Easter holidays, particularly the Monday, celebrating with friends, while family obligations are kept to a minimum.

Engagements

Easter eggs, whether chocolate or ornamental, often come with a small gift inside them in Italy. In recent years, placing a ring inside the egg has become a popular way for Italians to pop the question to their partner – so don't be surprised if a few of your Italian friends get engaged over the holiday weekend.

Photo: teodorova/DepositPhotos

Pasquetta

Easter Monday is known as Pasquetta in Italy, literally 'little Easter', and as it's a public holiday, it's typical for Italians to take a day trip to the countryside and enjoy the spring weather. The other name for Easter Monday is Lunedi dell'Agnello or 'Lamb Monday', which gives a clue to the other highlight of the day: the lunch.

READ MORE: Italian Easter foods you have to try at least once


Photo: masolino/Flickr

A version of this article was first published in 2017.

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