Easter Sunday, as Celebrated in Italy, Slovenia, and Greece
In Florence, crowds watch a mechanical dove set off a cart of fireworks. The Vatican holds a global Mass. Families gather for feasts in Italy, Slovenia, and Greece. After an Easter-egg hunt and a meal of grilled lamb, Greeks dance and sing in celebration.
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In contrast, back in Italy, in Florence the pageantry has yet to peak. Easter Sunday starts with a grand parade. A lumbering, decorated wagon is dragged by white oxen through town as it has been since medieval times. The procession ends at the steps of the cathedral, where a crowd has gathered filled with anticipation. At the end of the Mass, a mechanical dove representing the Holy Spirit rockets from the high altar directly into the cart, igniting fireworks. It’s a spectacular way to announce the Resurrection.
And back at the Vatican, St. Peter’s Square is once again filled as this 2,000-year-old tradition is celebrated with another huge Mass, bringing together an international crowd and a global audience.
In addition to St. Peter’s, worshippers fill venerable churches throughout Rome — which are busy with Easter Masses all day long. As is the case everywhere in Christendom, communities come together with splendid, yet dignified fanfare, all to celebrate the Resurrection and the promise of salvation.
And then, as if famished by all the processing and church-going, across the lands families settle down to ritual feasts. It seems the gift of Easter and the promise of spring brings out a deep-seated urge to gather loved ones together and embrace life in its fullest.
Throughout Italy, Easter Sunday is a special time for family and friends to celebrate the good news. Sacred traditions — rich with symbolism — survive most vividly in tiny villages. Grandmothers make holiday rolls called ciambelle. With a gentle touch, the dough is kneaded, and then shaped into rings. The ring shape represents the Crown of Thorns.
Meanwhile grandfather tends the oven with wood from his olive trees. When the coals are just right, the ciambelle arrive, as if on cue. And drawing from the practice of a lifetime of Easters, they’re cooked to perfection. In his cellar, he cuts a cured pork salami, hung there to dry especially for this Easter breakfast.
As all generations gather, the feast begins. Grandfather slices his prized salami. He blesses the occasion with a toast. Eggs and a variety of holiday breads are shared. The ciambelle are served with a small glass of vin santo — again recalling the body and blood of Jesus.
On Easter Sunday, it seems everyone has a place to be. And I’m fortunate to join friends in this Tuscan farmhouse. To be so far from my own home and loved ones yet feel so welcome with this family, is a memory I’ll treasure for the rest of my Easters.
And after the meal, the kids, so obedient at the table, are now free to storm their chocolate eggs for the gift traditionally hidden inside. Joining the parents and grandparents looking on, we all recall similar Easter moments from our childhoods.
And in Rome, older celebrants embrace the holiday egg theme as well. Enjoying a personal moment as an extravagant Easter banquet awaits, Antonello gives Manuela her big chocolate egg. She discovers her gift — a celebration of their love and commitment to each other.
In Slovenia, family and friends have also gathered — the Easter table is laden with food thoroughly blessed the day before. There’s a timeless joy in this intimate scene as parents laugh together, children do the serious work of cracking eggs, and a grandmother cradles her baby granddaughter trying to make sense of her first Easter. And after a long winter and Lent it seems like there’s more than enough ham and potica to last through spring.
Children across cultures, probably yet to appreciate all this resurrection and rebirth symbolism, certainly know the excitement of an Easter-egg hunt. Back in Greece, this community has organized one in the town park. It’s a mad scramble to find as many eggs as possible as quickly as possible. And, as is so often the case, the tearful little one who missed out, gets a little extra love.
In villages all across Greece, families are grilling lamb…eating…singing…and dancing. It seems there’s a spring lamb on a spit in every back yard. The roast takes hours but no one’s in a hurry.
It’s an all-day affair. People move between households checking on each other’s lambs and socializing. When the spit stops, the feast begins: Lamb off the bone, lamb off the fingers, beer…wine…music…more food…more fun…more lamb. People party all day long.
Eventually the village ends up back at the church, dancing and singing. Together they celebrate — as they have every year for all their lives. Celebrating the hope of renewal at yet another joyous Easter Sunday.