Sunday, April 8, 2012

Pasqua and Pasquetta: The Twin Traditions of Sicily

Marzipan Paschal lamb
Easter, called Pasqua in Italian (derived from the Latin Pascha and Hebrew Pesach), is one of the most important holidays in Italy.

I have read that early converts to Christianity celebrated Easter every Sunday, causing discord among Christian communities of the time. In 325, the First Council of Nicaea, a meeting of bishops representing the Christian world, decreed that Easter would be celebrated the first Sunday after the full moon, following the Spring Equinox. Later, in 525, it was decided that the dates were to fall between March 22 and April 25. The 40 day period before Easter is one of fasting and atonement, beginning with Ash Wednesday and ending with Holy Saturday.  

Starting on Good Friday, the church bells in all of Italy are silent in remembrance of the crucifixion
and death of Christ.  Children are told that all church bells are turned toward Rome, and that they will turn back on Easter Sunday when they ring out joyously for the resurrected Christ.

 Perugina  hollow chocolate egg
Easter Day in Sicily is one of the most important food events of the year. In addition to attending church services, families prepare their most special meals and sweets. Traditionally Sicilians eat a main course of roast lamb for Easter dinner, along with a menu of baked pastas, marzipan or chocolate based sweets and other specialties

pastry wrapped Easter eggs
The tradition of colored Easter eggs wrapped in pastry baskets and marzipan sweets shaped like lambs, called agnello Pasquale di martorana, are among the things I love most about the holiday. Italian chocolate Easter eggs are especially wonderful, and in Italy the hollowed eggs are filled with a “surprise”. Depending on how much you are willing to spend on Easter eggs,  the surprise can be quite significant!  Once, as a child I remember getting an orange watch in my chocolate Easter egg surprise! Some specialty pastry shops prepare custom hollow chocolate eggs filled with unique gifts.  I have heard of  young women receiving  engagement rings in their chocolate egg--and can only imagine their surprise! 
The surprise!
The day after Easter, called Pasquetta in Italian, is an equally important holiday and a much anticipated ritual for all Italian families. Pasquetta falls on the first Monday following Easter Sunday.  On that day, Italians head for the countryside or seaside, away from the cities. They celebrate the renewal of the holiday and spring with family picnics and open-air barbecues.  This holiday commemorates the apparition of Christ to his two disciples on the country road leading to the town of Emmaus.  It is one of the most charming traditions of Italy and the succulent foods of Sicily make it even more anticipated!

Auguri di Buona Pasqua and a very happy Pasquetta to everyone!
Ciao a presto!