Interested in celebrating Easter in Italy? Here’s a guide of what to expect. From traditional Italian Easter foods to regional rituals, we’ve got you covered. Find out what’s open, learn how to say Happy Easter, and learn how to pronounce important Easter related words in Italian, like Pasqua.
Table of Contents
ITALIAN EASTER SUNDAY
At Easter time In Italy there are two days of public holidays. Pasqua means Easter in Italian, and it is the word for Easter Sunday, when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Pasqua is a very important religious and cultural holiday, coming second only to Christmas in Italy. Everything is closed except for select bars and restaurants.
Even though Easter is such an important holiday in Italy, Italians don’t necessarily celebrate at home with close family: that’s reserved for Christmas. In fact, there’s an Italian saying: Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi, which means (Celebrate) Christmas with your family, Easter with whom you wish. In fact, many Italians choose to spend Easter with friends.
The pronunciation of Pasqua is: PAH-skoo-ah
Listen to how to pronounce Pasqua here:
ITALIAN EASTER MONDAY
The day after Easter, or Easter Monday, has several names in Italian. There is il lunedì di Pasqua, which means Easter Monday; and lunedì dell’angelo, which means Monday of the Angel. But perhaps the most common way to say Easter Monday is the informal pasquetta, which means little Easter in Italian.
Pasquetta is a public holiday just like Pasqua, so all offices, stores, and almost everything else is closed. Some bars and restaurants stay open on pasquetta.
Pasquetta is more informal than Pasqua. There may be a big meal with Easter leftovers at home, but an Easter Monday tradition for many Italians is an excursion in the countryside. There is even a specific Italian word for a country outing: scampagnata.
On Pasquetta, Italians on their scampagnata may have a picnic lunch, or have lunch at a country restaurant.
The pronunciation of Pasquetta is: pah-skoo-EHT-tah
Listen to how to pronounce Pasquetta here:
HOW ITALIANS CELEBRATE EASTER
ITALIANS GO TO CHURCH TO CELEBRATE EASTER
Easter is the culmination of Holy Week, or Settimana Santa, which begins on Palm Sunday. Local churches hold a host of religious celebrations and rituals during this period, including processions called Via Crucis.
In our Tuscan town, in the weeks preceding Easter the local priest visits every street and every house to give an Easter blessing and personally hand out a pamphlet about local holy week celebrations.
Mass on Easter Sunday is so important that it is often the one day a year that even non-observant Italian Catholics attend church. Easter mass at the Vatican is broadcast on TV so that it can be followed by Italians at home.
ITALIANS EAT A LARGE EASTER LUNCH
While Italian Easter traditions differ depending on the region, there is one universal, central tradition: il pranzo di Pasqua, or Easter lunch. This is a big, multi-course meal on Easter Sunday. It comes at the end of the 40-day lent period, or quaresima, when observant Catholics traditionally do not eat meat or elaborate dishes.
Lamb is a major feature of Italian Easter lunch, as well as spring vegetables like artichokes. Eggs (read more below), are usually served in some form, whether hard boiled or integrated into traditional Easter dishes. To finish off the meal, there are Easter desserts, like la colomba (a dove-shaped Italian cake), pastiera (a tart from Naples) and big chocolate Easter eggs.
As I already mentioned, Italians may spend Easter with family or friends, either at home, or at a restaurant. Restaurants usually serve a fixed price Easter lunch menu (not à la carte). Definitely reserve ahead of time!
Learn more about Traditional Italian Easter foods.
Eggs, a symbol of life and renewal, are an important Italian Easter tradition. L’uovo di Pasqua means the Easter egg in Italian, and it is an Italian tradition to bring a chicken egg to church on Easter Sunday to be blessed (in many families it is then eaten at Christmas lunch).
But perhaps the most well loved Easter eggs are chocolate! While Italians do eat small, foil covered chocolate eggs, there is no Easter bunny and there are no huge Easter baskets filled with chocolates and jelly beans. Instead, for children the star of Easter is a special large chocolate uovo di Pasqua (Easter egg), with a small surprise inside.
Though my husband’s nonna (grandmother) absolutely frowned upon it, many Italians bring their chocolate Easter eggs to be blessed at church, instead of real eggs.
Children often paint and decorate hard boiled eggs. There aren’t Italian egg dying kits: in first grade, my older son had a homework assignment using natural dyes like red onion skins (purplish-brown), and turmeric (yellow) to color the eggs.
Eggs are an important part of many traditional Italian Easter dishes, like casatiello and pastiera from Naples. Savory pies and quiches, called torta salata and torta rustica in Italian, grace Easter tables throughout Italy.
REGIONAL ITALIAN EASTER TRADITIONS
EASTER IN ROME
Rome is the home of the Vatican, and host to important religious ceremonies and traditions led by the Pope. On Good Friday, the Pope holds mass at St. Peter’s Basilica at 5pm. At 9:15 pm, there is the Stations of the Cross, or Way of the Cross procession, called Via Crucis in Italy. The Pope leads this evocative, candlelight ritual outside at the Colosseum at night time.
On Saturday night, the Pope holds Vigil Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica from 9pm until midnight to celebrate the beginning of Easter. And on the morning of Easter Sunday, the Pope holds Easter mass at St. Peter’s, then delivers a blessing at St. Peter’s square to thousands of pilgrims from all over the world. In 2022, there were an estimated 100,000 people.
EASTER IN FLORENCE
Florence’s Easter tradition is explosive– literally: lo scoppio del carro, or the explosion of the cart in Italian. This Easter morning tradition dates back centuries, and attracts throngs of locals and tourists alike. The storiest-tall, ornate cart (carro) filled with fireworks is pulled by oxen through the streets of Florence to the front of the Duomo, accompanied by a procession of flag bearers, drummers, and people dressed up in period costumes.
At about 11 am, the Archbishop lights a rocket at the altar in the shape of a dove, called la colombina (little dove). He uses a special source- fire originating from flints that Florentine nobleman Pazzino di Ranieri de’Pazzi allegedly brought home from the crusades almost one thousand years ago. If all goes well, the dove rocket travels down a wire running all the way through and out the front of the Duomo to the carro. When it sets off the fireworks inside, the loud set of explosions is a sign of a good, bountiful year to come.
HOW TO SAY HAPPY EASTER IN ITALIAN
When toasting and celebrating Easter in Italy, the most common phrase to say is Buona Pasqua!
Buona Pasqua means (Have a) good Easter!
If you’re looking for more Easter-related words and phrases, read how to say Happy Easter in Italian.