The essential guide to an Italian Easter

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.

The essential guide to an Italian Easter
A Good Friday parade in Procida, off Naples. Photo: Mario Laporta/AFP

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.


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.


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


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.


‘Do the super bridge’: Why Italy is on its longest Easter holiday ever

Italy has just begun its longest spring break ever. Here's how you too can do the 'super ponte'.

'Do the super bridge': Why Italy is on its longest Easter holiday ever
Taking a break in Bari. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Fare il ponte ('to do the bridge'), if you don't already know, is the practice of taking an extra day off when a public holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday – or, if you're particularly audacious, a Wednesday – instead of next to a weekend, in order to create one continuous break.

And this April and May are full of opportunities to try it out. Thanks to a late Easter falling closer than usual to secular spring holidays, many Italians will be bundling up their free days off into a break of up to two weeks.

READ ALSO: The essential guide to an Italian Easter

Photo: Mario Laporta/AFP

School kids are the ones who stand to benefit most from the 'super bridge', as it's been dubbed: while Good Friday is surprisingly not a public holiday in Italy and workers are only granted Easter Sunday and Monday (Pasquetta, or 'little Easter') off, state schools typically close from Thursday to Tuesday over the holiday weekend. Most kids began their break today, April 18th.

They could go back to class on Wednesday 24th… but the next day, April 25th, is Italy's Liberation Day, a celebration of the end of the Nazi occupation during World War Two and a national holiday. And by then it's practically the next weekend, so what's the point?

READ ALSO: What is Italy's Liberation Day all about?

Ok, but the following week it must be back to the grindstone, right? Well… look what's coming up on Wednesday, May 1st: International Workers' Day. Like most countries in the EU, Italy gives everyone the day off.

Those who really commit to the 'super bridge', hailed by the Italian press as the longest ever, are therefore beginning 14 days of holiday from now until May 2nd. Employees taking leave can get two weeks for the price of one, since only seven of those days are supposed to be worked. 

Having fun in Rome. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

Not everyone will put their feet up, of course. Even aside from those who have to work, the Ministry of Education set some notably less generous term dates for state schools in the various regions of Italy, with unlucky pupils in Lombardy, Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna, Liguria, Tuscany, Lazio, Marche, Molise, Puglia and Sardinia advised to return to class on April 23rd.

Schools in Valle d'Aosta, Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Umbria, Abruzzo, Campania, Calabria, Basilicata and Sicily are supposed to reopen on April 24th, while the lucky kids in Bolzano and Trento have been told not to go back until at least April 26th or 27th respectively.  

However, these dates remain advisory only: it's up to local authorities to decide exactly when each school opens and closes, so long as they fit in at least 200 teaching days throughout the year. Many institutions have announced they'll take one, two or even all three of the 'bridges' available.

Admiring the Boboli Gardens in Florence. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Thousands of workers will be hoping to join them. According to hotel owners' association Federalberghi, more than 21 million Italians are planning to travel over Easter and/or the May Day weekend, with 87 percent of them choosing to stay in Italy. If you're heading anywhere in Italy over the next two weeks, be prepared for higher prices, longer lines and booked-out B'n'Bs.

Q&A: What you need to know about taking part in the European elections if you're in Italy

But the 'super bridge' isn't the only chance to take a break, for kids at least: those whose schools are used as polling stations can expect a couple of days off around May 26th for the European elections and, in nearly 4,000 municipalities, mayoral elections the same day (as well as potential mayoral run-offs on June 9th). Unions are also threatening a general strike on May 17th that would see schools across the country closed.

Most workers, though, will have to wait until August for their next free day off: Italy's early summer public holiday, Republic Day on June 2nd, this year falls on a Sunday. 

After that there are no freebies until August 15th, Assumption day or Ferragosto, which in 2019 is mercifully… a Thursday.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about Ferragosto