("La Santa Pasqua”)
times, eons before the Jewish-Christian religion expanded in the known world, the period between the months of
March and April after the Spring Equinox (from the Latin: aequus meaning equal and nox meaning night) that occurs
around March 20th , was celebrated with rituals, traditions and magic; the deities were worshiped to gain their
blessings and their support.
marked the end of winter and the time to prepare for the new season, to care for the lands and to do all necessary
planning for that time of year.
This event was
celebrated with the sacrifice of lambs to the gods to gain their blessings to the land and to the seeds planted in
the ground; eggs were offered to the goddess of fertility to favor for new life to come into their families.
traditions were observed from the Vikings in the north of Europe to and as far south as Africa and from the Columns
of Hercules as far east as the known Asian continent.
Persians, Armenians, Jews, Germans, Vikings, Greeks and Romans honored their own gods with rituals, offerings and
traditions not so different from the present rituals of Easter; in fact with the advent of the Christian religion
the pagan holidays and practices were transformed to accommodate, synthesize and merge these traditions.
La Santa Pasqua
Easter, or as
it is called in Italian Pasqua is an adopted version of the celebration of the Jewish Pesach,”the Passage” or
Passover, which commemorate the freedom and exodus of the Israelites (Jewish slaves) from Egypt during the reign of
the Pharaoh Ramses II and it is celebrated with a “Seder”, a family ritual meal, similar to the Last Supper, which
effectively it was a Seder celebrated by Jesus, a Jew and his disciples.
Easter is one of the most solemn celebrations in the Christian Liturgy, commemorating the death and the
resurrection of Jesus Christ and the passage- Pesach or Pasqua- from paganism to a new religion which was to expand
all over the world.
after Palm Sunday and the Holy Week: Thursday, Friday and Saturday are the most significant and important days.
commemorates the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist; a solemn Mass is celebrated with the benediction
of the three Holy Oils, oil for the sick, an oil for baptism and one for confirmations, consecrations, ordination
and for other functions. It follows the ritual of washing the feet and the fastening of the bells, which will be
silent until Easter. The service is followed by a procession to deposit the Holy Eucharist to the Altar of Repose,
a chapel decorated by the faithful, less properly called the Sepulcher.
crucifixion and death of Jesus of Nazareth is observed on Holy Friday with profuse and folkloristic functions.
Saturday, a Vigil is performed at which time the Easter Candle is lit to signify the radiance of Jesus Resurrected
in order to illuminate and win power over the darkness of evil and death.
is the holiest day in the Catholic faith. On this day the churches are full of the faithful greeting each other
with blessings and augurs of peace; indulgences and prayers expressing gratitude are offered to God for sending the
Son Jesus, Who with His sacrifice offered to humanity the possibility of redemption and eternal Life.
Easter in Palermo - The Sepulchers
When I was
living in Palermo, it was customary to go to pray at the Sepulchers, on Giovedi
Santo, Holy Thursday and visit and pray in at least three churches. The Sepulchers are furnished and
decorated by the local parishioners with plants, flowers, vases with wheat buds and offerings of bread and
wine. As I remember, every year it was a competition between parishioners and churches contending for the best
looking and better decorated Sepulcher.
spectacular day was and still is Friday celebrated by every church with processions and various rituals. These
processions are sponsored by the faithful usually belonging to a trade or a profession or skill.
procession the statue of the Madonna
Addolorata, Our Lady of Sorrows, and of Jesus Christ, dead after the crucifixion, are situated in barges and
carried by the faithful in the streets of Palermo following an intricate pattern in order to avoid any overlap with
other processions from other churches.
Good Friday Procession
remember, I went with my mother to the first procession at the Chiesa dei
Cocchieri, the Coachmen’s Church at the end of Via Alloro.
leave the Church of Our Lady of Itria, in the late afternoon; each barge is carried by 32 persons, guarded by
knights in armor suits and escorted by the cocchieri- the
coachmen- dressed in red liveries, with white hair colored with flour and with the faithful following through the
streets of the district.
In a district
called Albergheria in the
church of Saint Isidoro, the
Procession, sponsored by the bakers, is one of the most spectacular.
start on Fridays afternoon, in the square outside the church, with a theatrical trial, scourge and crucifixion of
Jesus; then He is carried in a sheet into the church and at this point the float with Jesus's dead body, followed
by Our Lady of Sorrows, are carried though the district in different directions and in an intricate pattern with
provisions of the two processions meeting with ceremonials, prayers and moving rituals.
processions start with the drummers in folkloristic costumes and the drums covered with black material. Around
the “vare”, the floats
there are men dressed as Roman soldiers; other men follow wearing robes and masks, and then by young girls carrying
wicker baskets with crowns of long, sharp thorns, nails and hammers used for the crucifixion and a money bag with
thirty silver pieces representing what was used to bribe Judas Iscariot.
Friday, processions are celebrated in every church in Palermo and all over Sicily, each with their own
particularities and characteristics.
Holy Saturday and Easter of Resurrection
before Easter, at noon occurred the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the altars were uncovered of the gray
curtains, the Holy Communion was dispensed with happy hymns and alleluias for the Resurrection that redeemed
humanity of the original sin and prayers to God to bless the coming season for the revival of nature, for new life
and for a fertile harvest.
In 1998 with
the reform of the Liturgy the Resurrection of Jesus Christ was changed to Sunday morning as in the original ritual
and the Holy Saturday is observed with silence, meditation and penitence: during the Vigil, in the churches the
fire is blessed, candles, lamps and the Paschal Candle are lit and other rituals are executed.
When I was
living in Italy, Easter of Resurrection was celebrated on Saturday between 11 and 12 noon; the same rituals are
follow now on Sunday morning between 10 and 12 noon.
Gancia”, in Via Alloro, near
where I was living, there was the most impressive “calata
tila”, literally the descending of the curtains.
Gancia, big and heavy curtains not only covered the altar but also the full arch of the church from the
high ceiling to the floor and lengthways; you could not believe that this enormous drapery would fall down and
when it came down it was one of the most magnificent parts of the ceremony.
Saturday, the church was always jam-packed by silent parishioners and the many visitors and exactly at noon, the
Resurrection with the “calata
tila” would take place.
statue of Christ Risen would appear, the bells would ring again, the huge organ would play in full power, the choir
and the faithful would sing Sacred Hymns, doves, the symbol of peace would be flying in the air full of the sweet
scent of incense.
are very vivid in my mind and it is a joy to recollect such events.
Easter’s Traditional Cooking
In Palermo, in
Sicily and all over Italy Easter is not only a religious celebration it is also an event that reunites families and
friends and a gastronomic experience that is rejoiced with special food for the occasion.
echoes pagan, Jewish-Christian myths, observances and traditions going back to Teutonic mythology and
pre-Babylonian times. The lamb that was sacrificed at spring time now becomes the main dish in every Italian
Easter’s menu’, as it was for the Jewish people for Passover; and in fact it recollects the time when before the
exodus from Egypt, Moses ordered every family to sacrifice a lamb, to paint the doors of their homes with the blood
and to roast and eat the lamb with unleavened bread.
miniature lambs, made of marzipan or chocolate are prepared for this holiday along with chocolate rabbits
The eggs (a
pagan symbol of fertility) are now offered to the children on Holy Saturday imbedded into bread, called
l’ova” puppet with eggs; the eggs are also made with chocolate, with a surprise gift inside it.
preparation is the Colomba
the Easter Dove, made with cake dough, similar to the Panettone into
the shape of a dove and covered
and nib sugar
Sicilian table, the typical main dish for the Easter dinner is the lamb served with potatoes and vegetables,
preceded by a pasta dish and concluded with the cassata siciliana, coffee, Moscato di Pantelleria and rosolio.
The cassata is
the characteristic and most famous Sicilian dessert. It is a colorful torte originally made in pre-Roman times with
ricotta and covered with honey and fruits, it was offered to the earth goddess to secure fertility and the blessing
to the spring sowing. Today the cassata is made with a sponge cake stuffed with ricotta cream, covered with candied
fruits, fragrant with cinnamon, citrus fruits and it is the classic Sicilian Easter dessert.
In my family
the Easter menu’ never changes and as we gather for the occasion we cherish each others company and look forward to
the dishes that remind us of past times, and of the family and friends with whom we celebrated this important
Our Traditional Easter Dinner
an Easter custom
chips of various cheeses
with chop meat ragu’ and peas
Anelletti con salsa di
pomidoro, carne e piselli
Stewed small baby lamb with onions, potatoes and wine
Agnello aggrassato con
baked the lamb with rosemary)
of wild cabbage sautéed with garlic & oil (something
montagna all’aglio ed olio
available bitter broccoli rabe
artichoke hearts fried in a batter or in a salad
carciofini fritti con pastetta o all’insalata
tender leaves of curly endive with oil and lemon
all’insalata con olio e limone
fruits included something
sweet the fennels
Siciliana, espresso coffee
di Pantelleria and liquors.
Most of these
recipes are available in our site or write to us to request the recipes.
We wish to all
our readers and friends a
Healthy and Happy Easter.