If you are planning your holidays in Italy in springtime, Easter is definitely a good period to travel across the country, and Abruzzo, with its special mix of traditions and foods specifically prepared to celebrate this festivity, might be the perfect destination to experience the Holy Week.
The region is pervaded by a strong religious spirit, deeply rooted in local rites, and all the events centered on the Passion and the Resurrection are lived with intensity.
The visits to the Sepulchres set up in the churches, the Processione degli Incappucciati (Procession of the Hooded) in Lanciano, the Holy Friday processions, the rituals, the music… everything contributes to create a very special atmosphere. And then, the joy of the Resurrection can be felt in Sulmona on Sunday, with its Madonna che scappa tradition. Finally, the Talami procession, living paintings inspired by episodes of the Old and New Testament in Orsogna, on Tuesday after Easter, closes the Holy Week celebrations in Abruzzo.
Generally speaking, it is one of most touching periods of the year and you might find yourself in the middle of religious events and culinary festivals pretty much all around Italy.
As in many other places in the world, the egg is probably its main symbol: whether it is made of dark or milk chocolate, or simply a real decorated egg, it always stands for new life, fertility and rebirth.
Before digging into the local rites, there’s one more thing you should know about Easter in Italy. We are talking about a simple yet eloquent expression of popular wisdom that says Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi: it means Christmas with your family, Easter with whomever you want… So no family obligations even if, practically speaking, Easter Sunday is still a time when people often get together with family, while Easter Monday is usually about spending time with friends.
Now let’s focus on Abruzzo to discover what happens in the region and why we think it is worth a visit during this time – which is also the reason why we made e a special package, the Abruzzo Easter Experience tour. Contact us for more information!
Traditions – rites and events
Before Palm Sunday
Processione della Sacra Spina (Holy Thorn procession)
In Vasto, the first event takes place the Friday before Palm Sunday, when a solemn procession is guided by the relic of one of the thorns of the Crown (the “Sacra Spina”) that the tradition links back to the passion of Christ.
Palm Sunday, the final Sunday of Lent and beginning of Holy Week, commemorates the arrival of Christ in Jerusalem, days before he was crucified. The liturgy usually starts outside the church where the faithful gather together and the priest blesses their olive branches, which are often given as gifts to friends and relatives.
Via Crucis e Passione vivente (Via Crucis and Living Passion)
On Palm Sunday, there are processions and sacred representations of the Via Crucis and the Passion of Christ throughout the whole region. Our tour will let you experience the one that takes place in Vasto.
Click here to watch a video about Via Crucis in Vasto.
I Sepolcri del giovedì Santo (Sepolcri night)
Thursday night is also known as the “sepolcri night”. It is one of the most evocative traditions of the festivity and consists in visiting the sacramental altars, called “sepolcri – sepulchers” in Italian of a number of different churches, all kept open for the occasion. Traditionally at least three tombs should be visited (and anyway in an odd number). The custom entails a plenary indulgence and it usually consists of putting many lights around the church altars.
Processione degli Incappucciati Lanciano (Procession of the Hooded)
Another not to be missed event of the Holy Thursday takes place in Lanciano and it is called Processione degli Incappucciati (Procession of the Hooded). For Christians this is the evening of the Last Supper – thus, of the betrayal – and that’s why the Brothers of San Filippo Neri from Lanciano walks very slowly down the streets wearing long black tunics, hoods and medals with death symbols. “Simon of Cyrene” walks barefoot and hooded at the centre of the procession, carrying the Cross of the Calvary on his shoulders.
Processione del Venerdì Santo (Good Friday procession)
On Good Friday, you can spot many Good Friday processions that take place in the streets in the evening, winding along the main alleys of the historical centers, lit only by the dim light of candles. One of the oldest rituals in Italy is held in Chieti, with a very touching solemn execution of the funeral march “Miserere”, sung by the choir and accompanied by 200 violins.
Madonna che scappa in piazza (Running Madonna)
The Madonna che scappa in piazza (Running Madonna) is a narrative and very emotional evocation of the encounter between Mary and the risen Christ that takes place in Sulmona. It is the most famous Easter event of the region with more than 10,000 people getting together to observe this tradition every year and #5 activity in our 14 off-the-beaten-track experiences that the region offers.
Angel’s Monday (Lunedì dell’Angelo in Italian, also called “Pasquetta”, which means “Little Easter”) is a day to relax. Hordes of people just pack some stuff and go to the mountains, the hills, or the beach, or their own family’s country property, to enjoy a picnic or a barbecue outdoors. It is a festive, enjoyable day, to welcome spring and – hopefully – enjoy the warmer weather outdoor.
If you join our tour, we will take you to the village of Roccascalegna – according to us, one of the 12 things that you must see when traveling to Abruzzo – where we’ll explore its enchanting castle, rising on a rock of limestone, and enjoy a festival with demonstration of medieval fights, hunting with falconry and theatrical performances that will bring you directly into the magical atmospheres of the Middle Ages. And of course you will have the opportunity to taste traditional street food such us arrosticini and porchetta!
Festa dei Talami (Festival of Talami)
On the Tuesday after Easter thousands of people are drawn by a show called “Festa dei Talami”, in the small village of Orsogna. It is a breathtaking parade of seven floats carrying sacred images inspired from the Bible, that combines theatre with folk tradition in a very evocative atmosphere. From 2011 the Talami are “Heritage of Italy for Tradition”.
Click here to watch a video about Festa dei Talami.
In Italy Easter is first a religious event but it is also celebrated with typical Easter foods, and Abruzzo plays a major role in keeping the traditions alive.
Talking about the main courses, Timballo is the Abruzzese version of the famous lasagna. Its recipe varies depending on the area: it can be made of scrippelle (a kind of thin “crepe” made of flour, eggs and water) and meatballs in Teramo, pastry sheets, or dried pasta covered with a pastry shell. Other recipes (like ours) might suggest to use artichokes: we guarantee it is a very good variation!
It is almost mandatory to have Agnello (Lamb) for the Easter meal, and depending on the area, it can be served in various ways. It could be simply grilled but also brought to the table together with “cace e ove” (cheese and eggs): this is a dish that comes from the ancient pastoral tradition of Abruzzo and represents the perfect combination of lamb, pecorino cheese, and eggs.
On the sweet side, we have to say that some of the most iconic Abruzzese desserts are specifically made for this festivity.
The typical Easter desserts here are Fiadone, the regional version of the cheesecake, a sweet cheese-based dessert that can be sweet or salty (in this case it can also be served as an appetizer together with cured meats and cheeses).
La Pupa, the Horse and the Heart, Easter cookies which come in various shapes and are usually given as gifts; and also Mostaccioli, hearty cookies sweetened with cooked grape must.
As we previously said chocolate eggs can be found in any home, just like colomba, a dove-shaped Easter cake – the counterpart to the Christmastime panettone and pandoro – which is a symbol of peace: it is a rich and fluffy cake traditionally made with high-quality flour, farm-fresh eggs, sugar, butter, and natural yeast, and topped with pearl sugar and almonds before being baked.
Now that you know almost everything about the way we celebrate Easter in Abruzzo, you just need to learn how to say Happy Easter in Italian… Here it is: Buona Pasqua (Boo-ona Pas-kwa)!
Ready to experience Abruzzo with us?
If you have any questions or curiosities, just get in touch with us and we will be happy to answer them. And if you’re not quite ready to make an enquiry, sign up to our free email course to learn everything you need to know about planning a tour of Abruzzo.