Italy offers a New Look At Easter

My relationship with Easter is a troubled one. I attribute it to my experience as a kid. Low or middle Easter would typically hover around my birthday which is in early April. That meant most of my birthday gifts doubled up with whatever was suitable as an Easter purchase. Chocolate eggs were a lousy substitute for a proper cake, and I have far too many memories of a new, little Easter suit complete with a clip-on tie, either bow or long, along with a new pair of shoes and some socks being passed off as a birthday present. I was never satisfied. But, as my sister who was born on December 25 always reminded me, things could be worse.

Sun rays over San Gennaro (Photo credit: Douglas Haynes).

So, decades on, I’m still a bit resentful that my own rebirth is not of singular focus for the season. So whether it’s Christian, Pagan, or any other spiritual celebration of renewal, resurrection, or spring, I can be a hard audience to win over. 

I’ve sensed this can be a problem when it comes to expat integration into my new Italian home.

This Pasqua thing is a big one; not quite up there with Christmas, but pretty darn close. In the coming week before Easter, schools will close, business and civic services will come to a halt, and towns will organize somber and not-so-somber rituals and celebrations. Dance cards for religious services will be full. I may not find a comfortable fit with all of the Italian cultural and religious traditions for this holiday, but I can be all-in for those that involve food, family and friends, especially up here in the hills around Lucca.

Making the food connection

I got my first sense that I could enjoy the food traditions of the religious holidays in Italy during my first Christmas visit in 2005. My husband and I spent an afternoon gorging on a three-and-a-half-hour Christmas Day lunch at the restaurant at Fattoria di Gamboro, a few dozen meters from our house in Petrognano. The restaurant was jam-packed. The tables were full of friends and family celebrating the holiday, serving dishes heaped with food were in constant flow, and the noise of people dining and enjoying each other’s company was symphonic.

Inside at Fattoria di Gambaro.

Since our first twenty-or-so-years of time-released retirement visits to Petrognano were only in the winter and the summer, my husband and I had no idea a similar holiday pilgrimage was made to the hills for Pranzo di Pasqua. We still don’t have a good feel for this springtime tradition since we have only lived here full-time for a little over two years when Easter lunch was nothing but COVID-protected deliveries to your doorstep. 

What we expect is to see is the restaurant in town (Fattoria di Gambaro) offering a special Easter lunch, along with others on the hillside and nearby in San Pietro Marcigliano (Vecchia Osteria Da Batano), Matria (Restaurante Le Colonne or Osteria il Botteghino), or across the valley in Gragnano (Osteria Da Mi Pa) or Montecarlo (La Nina or Restarante il Vecchio Olivo). While most of the families on the hillside will likely enjoy Easter lunch and the amazing views from the comforts of their homes, others will be winding their way up the hill for their Sunday feast and holiday celebration.  I’m sensing with this being the first post-lockdowns opportunity to slip into the hillside restaurants, the always-appreciated advance reservation will be a must. Weather-permitting, we can expect the celebration of renewal and spring to waddle from the lunch tables and into the late afternoon and early evening with the Easter holiday boosting the numbers for hillside passeggiata (LuccaNews: Springtimes’ Passageway: A Petrognano Passeggiata). 

One day is not enough

Even with joining in for the consumption of lamb and chocolate eggs for Pranzo di Pasqua, I’m aware that it will not be enough to fit in, just a little, with the Italian celebration of Easter. Plans need to be made for the post-Easter celebration, la Pasquetta (a.k.a. Lunedi dell’Angelo). If I’ve been doing my web research correctly, I’m supposed to be making arrangements to really break out of the bonds of winter and embrace the whole of the outdoors: more hillside passegiate, hiking and biking, and a little picnicking. I’ve marked a picnic with a local GLBTQ trekking group on my calander for the Monday after Easter, which I think successfully checks all of the a-formentioned activity boxes.

I must admit, just taking a moment to write about these little plans for my first COVID-free Pasqua as a resident expat in Italy has been helpful. I think I’ll be able to enjoy all of the church bells that will be chiming through the coming weekend and also respect what they mean, though probably not answering their call. But certainly, seeing all of these welcoming restaurant doors opening up, the special Pranza di Pasqua menus, the prospect of enjoying the company of people who are enjoying each others’ company, and then bursting outdoors to insistently embrace the change of season seem like the kinds of things I can do to connect to the Easter traditions of my new home.

And, what the heck, I may even break out one of my bow ties from my former work life – an actual tie-on, no longer using clips – to show I can hold on to some old stuff and embrace the new, as expats are apt to do.

Just another reflection on the minutia that fill the days and lives of an expat in Lucca.

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