By Joe Cannavo
As one would imagine in a predominantly Roman Catholic country like Italy, Easter Sunday is perhaps the most revered of holidays, as is the case for Christians in general. One would then think that in Italy, Good Friday would be the second most celebrated day of the Easter period. Well as it turns out, it is not. Not that Good Friday isn’t an important and sacred day, but Easter Monday, also known as La Pasquetta in Italian, is a public holiday in Italy.
Government offices, post offices, banks, schools and other educational institutions are all closed. Transport options such as taxis, rail services between major cities and major long-route bus lines are available but travelers are always advised to check first with local transport authorities, lest they be unexpectedly stranded.
Considered the happiest of Italian Easter traditions, Easter Monday is a popular time to take short breaks to the countryside with friends and/or family. Easter games include egg races. Many people also go on picnics at this time of the year, when the best of Italian Easter food makes the best of Easter treats for kids.
Easter Monday, or La Pasquetta, literally means little Easter. It’s the first day after the religious intensity of Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday has finished and when families and friends who have been solemn and pensive get together in a completely relaxed, informal, always noisy way to enjoy each other’s company and — hopefully — the warmer spring weather.
The origins of Easter Monday celebrations, like the origins of Easter in Italy, are based in pagan tradition. The ancient Roman culture feast of Lupercalia was linked to rebirth after the hardships of winter and was a period of several days celebrating fertility and family.
Although it’s not really celebrated as a religious part of Easter in Italy, though inevitably Mass is said in churches all over the country, Easter Monday does have some religious significance.
It’s also known in Italy as Lunedì dell’Angelo, or “Monday of the Angel,” the day to remember Mary and Mary Magdalene visiting the sepulcher and, finding it empty, being comforted by an angel.
But there is no obligation to attend church on Easter Monday and so the main celebrations are secular. Even the Pope has a day off!
This is a time for families and communities.
Ask any older Italian for their most cherished childhood memory and they will almost without exception talk about Easter Monday picnics. Italians leave the cities in droves on Easter Monday. They hit the country, the beach, the mountains — we have even seen families stop to have their picnic on the emergency lane of the motorway between Milan and Turin! Anything will do.
Families may travel to the nearest village to celebrate local Easter Monday traditions but generally speaking, Easter Monday for families means a picnic.
From Rome, a favorite picnic destination is the village of Colli Albani, a few miles to the southeast of the city. Towns like Frascati and the Pope’s summer residence, Castelgandolfo, are particularly popular.
In Rome itself, the Borghese Park is the place to be. It’s the closest thing to the country that Rome has to offer.
Adults in Italy take the opportunity to play soccer, bocce, dominoes and cards to the sound of Italian music booming from the stereo and bottles of wine cooling in the stream at the bottom of the hill. The whole point is to get out and enjoy the return of spring.
For many teens and young adults Italian Easter traditions have come to mean the thrill of heading out for the day with groups of friends, often to the coast, and enjoying a barbecue on the beach.
And for many of the more sports-minded, it’s the first serious chance of the year to get out as a group on bikes and pedal the mountain roads.
With the Giro d’Italia, the Italian version of the Tour de France, just around the corner in May, cycling clubs start serious training on Easter weekend.
Pasquetta is, above all, a time to enjoy whatever you like doing best. That often means it’s the time for families to outdo each other with their picnic fare. Although many dishes are improvised, using bits left over from the big Easter Sunday celebrations, some traditionalists in Italy still take the time to roast an entire sheep on an open-air spit.
For the less ostentatious, eggs are a main feature, not just the chocolate eggs of the well-known Italian Easter egg tradition, but hard-boiled eggs and Italian Easter bread complete with its in-baked colored eggs.
And then there are things baked with eggs, Italian frittata, which is an Italian omelette filled with leftover vegetables, which makes a delicious egg sandwich when slapped between two slices of bread. A favorite of all cold picnic recipes from Italy is Torta di Riso, rice pie. Zucchini sliced lengthways, covered with a squirt of lemon and grilled on a smoky barbecue, and of tomato, mozzarella, basil, and extra virgin olive make up the perfect Italian picnic.
Of course, as is always a staple at any Italian meal, Easter Monday outings must include platefuls of lovely crusty Italian bread, slices of a simple pizza Margherita, cured or grilled meats, local cheeses and mounds of vegetables including fresh lettuce and you’ve almost got yourself a proper Italian picnic.
Top it all off with plenty of good wine and you have another great reason to enjoy the Italian way of life.