Easter in Tuscany is celebrated over a 5-day period which falls anywhere between 22 March and 25 April. Perhaps a more heartfelt holiday to an Italian than Christmas, they say “Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi” – Christmas with your family, Easter with whomever you wish. Having survived a long winter indoors, they can hardly wait to get together with this ‘whomever they wish’ and raise a joyful noise. On Thursday and Friday this noise is somewhat contained in church masses, re-enactments of religious events and evening processions. But with the coming of Easter there is colour and company and outdoor excursions, ‘gite fuori porta‘.
On Good Friday, Venerdì Santo, Tuscans are naturally at their most serious. Villagers view or partipate in costumed processions, accompanying Jesus as He carries his cross to Calvary. Such processions include Chianciano Terme’s ‘Antica Giudeata‘, San Gimignano’s Procession of the Holy Cross and Pienza’s parade of hooded and barefoot Scalzi moving solemnly to the Cathedral.
On Easter, Pasqua, celebrations breakout in almost all cities and villages. At daybreak Porto Santo Stefano carries the statue of Christ 3 times around the port as fishing boats lay on their sirens. In Florence’s Scoppio del Carro a cart loaded with fireworks and brought to the Cathedral by garlanded oxen is lighted by a dove-shaped rocket and explodes bringing Good Luck to all observers.
On Easter Monday, Pasquetta or ‘Little Easter’, all families who can head outdoors – to picnic on traditional favourites, to take children to large Italian gardens to hunt eggs or learn to delight in Nature, or to head to one of the many museums open on Sunday and Monday. Villages set up markets to sell handmade goods or invent competitions, such as Panicale’s unusual Ruzzolone in which competitors roll whole cheeses around the village racetrack.
Considered another good occasion to eat well for days, the holiday offers menus that speak to the rebirth that Easter and Spring offer. While Good Friday features fish and seafood of all types, Sunday lunch, which will meander on for hours, brings other ingredients to the table. Naturally, there are eggs – set into woven Easter bread or tucked into Torta Pasqualina, a savory Easter tart. Preferred vegetables include asparagus, perhaps in a risotto or served with shrimp in a pasta, as well as artichokes, spinach and fava beans, the latter nibbled on alongside young pecorino. The main course is quite likely lamb, prepared as ribs or pan fried or oven baked with potatoes. And for dessert, in addition to the large chocolate eggs, there is the Colomba, the dove-shaped cake representing salvation which is baked with candied fruite and coated with almonds and sugar crystals. Whatever is not polished off at Easter lunch will slip into the picnic basket or reappear at breakfasts to come.
And about those eggs.........
Italian children may like a good egg hunt, but those colorful orbs tucked into small spaces are not the ones they look forward to in the days leading to Easter. Those of their dreams are the chocolate monsters, often hand-crafted and always wrapped in shiny multi-hued aluminium. Unwrapped they hold not only enough chocolate to satisfy a sweet tooth, but also an inner egg with toys of varying value. The ‘Christmas stocking of the Easter holiday’, perhaps it is the anticipated surprise that counts.