Easter in Italy: 8 Magic Traditions to Discover

Apr 7, 2023 | Blog, Easter, Italian Culture & Traditions, Travel

Join me into the vibrant world of Easter in Italy, and discover the most enchanting traditions. Let’s explore the colourful customs and heartwarming ceremonies that bring communities together. Welcome to Italy’s magical Easter journey!

Join me on a captivating journey as we explore Easter in Italy, a time of year that brims with magic, passion, and a deep sense of community.
From the bustling streets of Rome to the charming villages of Sicily, we’ll uncover mesmerising customs and heartwarming ceremonies. They bring generations of Italians together in a celebration of faith, love, and renewal.
 
Allow me to share my fascination with Italy’s rich cultural tapestry. We’ll delve into the awe-inspiring processions, lively dances, and extraordinary local customs that make Easter in Italy a unforgettable experience. Together, we’ll feel the emotions that stir in the hearts of Italians, as they unite to preserve their time-honoured traditions and pass them down through the generations.
 
So, embark with me on this enthralling adventure into the world of Easter in Italy, where ancient rituals blend seamlessly with modern life, creating a unique tapestry of faith, culture, and community that can only be experienced in this remarkable country.

1- From the “Ballo dei Diavoli” to “La Festa dei Giudei” – Sicily

Sicily, with its captivating and unique Easter traditions, has always Intrigued me. Their Easter traditions are so unique that you cannot miss! The Ballo dei Diavoli (The Devils’ Dance)  in Prizzi, near Palermo, is one of the most memorable experiences. On Easter morning, devils clad in red and accompanied by death in yellow costume. They playfully harass passers-by and try to stop the meeting of the risen Christ and the Madonna’s statues. It’s magical to watch angels intervene and chase them away, with the sound of bells accompanying the scene. During the festival, you’ll enjoy the delicious cannatedde, a special dessert made from shortcrust pastry and hard-boiled eggs.
 
In Adrano, near Catania, the Diavulazzi ‘i Pasqua (Easter’s Demons), a tradition dating back to the 18th century. It celebrates the triumph of good over evil as satanic figures invade the town on Easter Sunday.
In San Fratello, near Messina, the La Festa dei Giudei (the feast of the Jews) features devils in red and yellow, attempting to disrupt the procession honouring Christ. The faithful join in a rustic duel with the devil, defending good against evil. If you’re up for a spirited experience, don’t hesitate to join them in this unforgettable celebration.

2- I Crociferi – Noicattaro, Puglia

Noicattaro, is a charming village near Bari. It holds a special place in my heart for its captivating Holy Week traditions that span from Thursday until Easter day.
 
Thursday is the most intense day. The “cruciferi” dressed in black with covered faces and crowns of thorns, solemnly cross the church nave on their knees before scourging their shoulders with iron chains. The scene is both haunting and powerful. Outside, a large bonfire is lit, symbolising a hopeful prayer for an abundant harvest. At 9 pm, the procession begins led by cruciferi. It’s followed by light bearers and children playing raganelle (wooden instruments). Thi is a way to remember those who took Jesus to Pilate.
 
On Friday, the “Procession of the Naka” takes place. The body of Jesus is placed in a cradle-like sarcophagus.
Saturday is a day of reflection and sorrow. At 2 am, the sombre procession of the Addolorata, lit only by flickering candles, winds through the village. Cruciferi and mourning women follow the statue, kissing the black veil that envelops it. In the afternoon, the week’s events culminate with the procession of the Mysteries. leaving a lasting impression on all who witness these deeply moving rituals.

3- La Processione Bianca e la Processione Nera – Sorrento, Campania

I absolutely love Sorrento and its enchanting peninsula. It remind me of happy Sundays out with my family.  And they’re also home to some of the most captivating Easter traditions in Italy.
 
Imagine the night between Thursday and Good Friday, when the “White Procession” begins around 3 am. Hundreds of people, dressed in white habits with black belts and faces concealed by white hoods. They embody the Virgin’s sorrow as she searches for her betrayed and condemned son.
 
Then, on Friday evening around 9 pm, the “Black Procession” takes place, dedicated to the dead Christ. The participants, cloaked in black and faces hidden, belong to the Venerable Archconfraternity of Death. Litanies and funeral marches go with the slow progress of both processions. Dozens of singers chant songs and psalms, seeking forgiveness for all sins.
 
While these processions have ancient origins, their grandeur today is believed to be influenced by Spanish rule. These stirring moments are sure to leave no heart untouched.

4- La Processione delle Macchine – Vercelli, Veneto 

The ancient tradition of the “Macchine” in Vercelli dates back to the 17th and 18th centuries. I found out about this not long ago, and it intrigued me at once.
These “Macchine” aren’t what you’d expect – they’re not machinery or cars. Instead, they are impressive wooden sculptures carried in procession on Good Friday.
 
The atmosphere is enchanting, as the procession is illuminated solely by the flickering light of torches, while members of the brotherhoods walk alongside, dressed in their traditional attire.
 
Following the procession of the Machines, the Archbishop carries the relic of the Holy Cross. And then comes the people, playfully referred to as “compagnia d’j arbuton,” or “the company of jostling.” This nickname captures their unorthodox behaviour as they jostle for the best view of the captivating scene.

Pasqua tanto desiderata, in un giorno è passata

Italian Proverb

Easter so much desired, in one day it has gone

 

5- La Madonna che Scappa – Sulmona, Abruzzo

The moment I first heard about the La Madonna che Scappa ceremony, I was captivated by its rich history and unique customs. Dating back to the 11th century, the event is organised by the Brotherhood of Santa Maria di Loreto. The male members, called Lauretani, enter Piazza Garibaldi, the atmosphere becomes electric. The statue of the risen Jesus stands by the Roman aqueduct, and the Bishop of Sulmona leads an open-air mass. The highlight is when the Madonna, dressed in a black mourning coat, sees her reborn son. With a swoosh, her black coat is whipped away, revealing a bright green dress. Twelve doves, held under her cloak, break free. Bangers explode as the Lauretani dash as she appears to fly joyously to embrace her son, waiting at the end of the square.

6- Scoppio del Carro – Florence, Tuscany

One of my all-time favourite Easter traditions in Italy has to be Florence’s Scoppio del Carro (Explosion of the Cart). This captivating event, with its roots dating back to the First Crusade, brings the streets of Florence to life.
Picture a magnificent 30-foot tall, intricately decorated, wooden cart, the “Brindellone.” It’s escorted by 150 armed men, musicians, and flag-wavers. Beautiful white oxen embellished with flowers pull the cart through the city.
Imagine standing in front of the city’s iconic cathedral, the Duomo, as the cart takes its position. As people sing the “Gloria in Excelsis Deo”, the fuse of a dove-shaped rocket is ignited. It flies from the altar to the cart, setting off a mesmerising display of firecrackers and fireworks expertly arranged on the chariot. This awe-inspiring ritual symbolises the Holy Fire brought back to Florence by a crusader. Many believe that this ensure a good harvest and good fortune for the city.

7- The Living Passion Play – Romagnano Sesia, Piedmont

When we discuss Easter traditions in Italy, we can actually take a trip back to ancient Jerusalem. Every other  year, Good Friday is brought to life in Romagnano Sesia, a small town in the province of Novara. This four-day celebration features more than 300 actors and extras. They immerse the spectators in the emotional journey of the Via Crucis in Jerusalem.
 
You’ll witness the impressive sight of legionaries on horseback. Follow the velites, or lightly armed soldiers, on foot, as they bring to life a total of 14 scenes. The small Piedmontese village is magically transformed into an ancient Palestinian city.

8- La Via Crucis – Rome, Lazio

Every year, my family and I would gather around the TV to watch the Pope lead the stirring Good Friday procession, La Via Crucis, or the Way of the Cross, in Rome.
This event, which retraces the 14 Stations of the Cross depicting the events leading to Jesus’ crucifixion, has always touched me . I remember watching John Paul II navigating through the crowd. I longed to be there among the thousands of pilgrims and tourists, following the Pope from the Colosseum to the ancient Palatine Hill.
 
La Via Crucis was first celebrated in 1750 by Benedict XIV but was later lost after Italy’s unification. It wasn’t until John XXIII brought the rite back to the Flavian Amphitheatre in 1959 that it resumed. However, the consistent tradition of the Good Friday rite was revived by Paul VI in 1965. In 1977, the event was broadcast worldwide for the first time, allowing people like me to witness this captivating tradition from the comfort of our homes.

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