It can take time to acclimate with the wonderful and exuberant celebrations that decorate the Italian Calendar, as there are many. Some are only recognizable because of the food that is available, while others dominate the whole city for days at a time. In the middle of all of this, there’s the treasured event of Easter in Venice. It’s a holiday that locals appreciate for its tranquility, happiness and a well-deserved feast considering it occurs after the severe days of Lent. At the heart of it you can still feel Italy’s strong religious faith, as it is fundamentally a religious holiday.
It’s important to remember at this time of year that if you’ve practiced self-restraint throughout Lent, (after a liberating carnival of course) you will be pining for all the things you have been missing; chocolate, meat, wine etc. In the days before Easter, shop owners begin to decorate their windows with giant, colorful chocolate eggs, which can be incredibly difficult to resist … But it also means that Easter Monday really is worth celebrating.
Even though this day theoretically marks the beginning of the Celebrations in Italy, local shop owners, transportation workers and others in the labor force unfortunately typically work this day. In most Italian cities, there’s a church service on Good Friday that takes place in the evening. While it’s typically a bit more special than the every day mass, it’s really only a buildup to the big Sundays Mass. We highly recommend talking a walk in the evening on this day, as you’ll have the chance to feel the excited atmosphere and beautiful decorations.
Many people travel on this pivotal day for long distances so that they can 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 service is free to attend, but is often so crowded that you can’t find space to sit or stand. Therefore, if you plan to attend a Mass on Sunday, it may be worth going to instead whichever church is closest in relation to your Truly Venice Apartment .
Monday (Easter Monday)
Literally translating to ‘Little Easter’, the traditions of this day have developed in a lovely and organic way. Oftentimes if family and friends have come into the larger cities to be a part of larger ceremonies, they typically remain together also for the Monday after – Especially as there is usually plenty of leftover food from the series of feasts in the previous days. Therefore, Monday is a day with family and friends, where all the meals are eaten in a very low key, relaxed manner. Many locals enjoy taking their meals 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 favorite 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 at least!) For this reason, the culinary traditions around Easter have evolved to be fairly portable, but never the less still delicious.
Our favorite 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.
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.