It has taken some time for me to become accustomed to the many, wonderful and intense celebrations that decorate the Italian Calendar. Some are only recognizable because of the food that is available, whilst others dominate the whole city for days at a time. And in amongst all this, Easter is somewhere in between. It is a time that everyone respects as a time of tranquillity happiness and a well-deserved feast as it is held after the severe days of Lent. However, at the heart of it you can still feel Italies strong religious faith, and fundamental it is a religious holiday.
What is important to remember at this time of year, is that if you have practised self-restraint throughout the whole of Lent, (after a liberating carnival of course) you will be pining for all the things you have been missing; chocolate, meat, wine etc.
Therefore, the days prior to Easter, when the shop owners begin to decorate the windows with giant and colourful chocolate eggs, can be some of the toughest of the whole lent. …..But it also means that Easter Monday really is worth celebrating.
This marks the beginning of the Celebrations in Italy, but shops, transport and unfortunately work, still continue as normal. In most Italian cities there is a church service on Good Friday that takes place in the evening, and although it is typically slightly more special than the everyday mass it is only the buildup to Sundays Mass. Walk around in the evening on this day, and you feel the excited atmosphere and beautiful decorations.
Sunday in Venice, sees many people travelling for long distances to take part in the atmosphere and attend one of the Masses, the largest of which of course is held in San Marco’s Basilica. This is free to attend but can often be hard to have any space. Therefore, if you are planning to attend a Mass on Sunday, it may be worth seeing which is the local one in relation to your Truly Venice Apartment.
The traditions of this day, literally translated to mean ‘Little Easter’, have developed in a lovely and organic way. Often if family and friends had come into the larger cities to be a part of the larger ceremonies they will would remain together also for the Monday. There would also commonly be left over food from the series of feasts of the previous days.
Therefore, Monday is a day with family and friends, where all the leftovers and more are eaten in a very low key, relaxed manner. Typically taken outside so they can make the most of the first days of Spring.
In terms of picnicking, just like everything else in Venice, Venetians have a slightly different version of this. Parties will head out in boats, with picnics on board and either set up camp on a favourite island or simply choose a calm spot in the middle of the lagoon where they will drop anchor and take the first dip of the season. (the brave ones will). For this reason the culinary traditions around this holiday have evolved to be fairly portable, but never the less still delicious.
Our favourite picnicking spots:
Sant Erasmo, Lido, Torcello, Certosa & San Elena
What is eaten and why?
Lamb is traditionally eaten often during this period for two reasons, firstly, because it is the time of year when lambs are in season, secondly because of the symbolic reference to Jesus as the ‘lamb of God’.
Unlimited eggs; during holy week, traditionally eggs are not supposed to be eaten. However, considering hens are still laying eggs by the end of the week there is an excess which makes its way into almost everything. This is also where the origins of egg painting, now carried out by excited kids. In order to recognize which eggs were hatched during the Holy Week they were painted red to represent Christs blood.
Typical Easter Menu from the North of Italy
Asparagus and Egg
Using the first asparagus of spring, typically the prized white ones from Bassano with their distinct flavor, but the green ones also pair very well with the creamy eggs sauce. A combination of hardboiled eggs and olive oil are mixed roughly together.
Risotto di Bruscandoli (Hop Shoot Risotto)
Hop shoots – the tips of the hop plant which are readily available in the Venetian countryside at this time of year and sold on the street corners in Venice – but you can substitute them for any seasonal shoots or roots, which are abundant in Spring.
Scottadito (Baby Lamb Chops)
Lamb is a must all over Italy as well as much of the rest of the world, but in the North they tend to cook it with polenta and local vegetables such as radicchio or potatoes.
Colomba di Pasqua
Fairly similar to a Panatone at Christmas, La Colomba di Pasqua is made with flour, egg, sugar, butter and decorated with almonds and candied fruit. Most importantly however, it is fashioned into the shape of a dove.