Every year as the chocolate bunnies and pastel colored eggs start to appear, I think back to my years in Florence and the several Easters I celebrated there. This year marks the 20th anniversary of my first Pasqua and so thoughts turn to how the day was spent that year and subsequent years abroad.
I grew up with my mother working in church. As the director of music and organist, she was there every Sunday, and thus so were we. While many kids grew up knowing spring break would bring a week of vacation, often including travel, I always saw it as Holy Week with a flurry of church activities.
So it was particularly eye opening to have my first trip abroad be a more than two-week group exchange to Italy, spanning Easter and Holy Week. It was a whirlwind, during which I fell in love with the Italian lifestyle several times over, every day. We visited Venice, Rome, and Florence, where we stayed with families to experience more of the culture.
It surprised me to arrive at Easter morning without once having been in a church for more than the art or even hear the other students talk about family activities of the sort I was familiar. Where were the new Easter dresses, shoes, bags, and bonnets? When, with all our other activities, would we find time to experience an Italian Easter? Easter vigil Saturday, I had to ask what time we would go to church the next day. Everyone looked at me in surprise and asked if I really wanted to get up so early with Mamma Zaccagnini to get the eggs blessed, as she was the only one going to church in their household, and only at that time. Not being Catholic or eager to rise before dawn, I declined and was intrigued by the absence (not entirely missed) of hurrying back and forth between church, work, school, and home. The actual Sunday was blessedly low-key. I was allowed to sleep in and when I awoke, my exchange “sisters” were lounging in p.j.s, while “mom” shuffled about in the kitchen, and “dad” read the paper. They discussed which friends would be coming by later and offered me an atypically light snack for breakfast.
The meal was the centerpiece of the day, although the casual attire was still perplexing. The eggs, which mamma had taken hard-boiled to the church at 5:00 am that morning to receive their holy touch, were sliced into a simple brodo with tortellini. A succulent arrosto overflowed from serving dishes to plates. Fruit and sweets followed, including the much more familiar Easter basket, with Italian touches: hollow kinder eggs filled with toys and larger eggs filled with more sweets and a teddy bear for the American girl. The day finished with all of us still in loungewear, while friends visited late afternoon into evening, sharing sweets, snacks and wine. Many of these were people our age, while the parents just sat back and asked after others’ parents. I went to bed happy, not having set foot out of the house, let alone in a church.
This is where I learned the phrase, “Natale con i tuoi, a Pasqua con chi vuoi” (At Christmas with your parents, at Easter with whom you want). While it was the biggest cultural revelation for me, at that age, it was one of the many points in my absorption of Italian-ness at which I felt completely at ease. Years later, when I returned to live in Florence, a similar rhythm was set. The several other Easters I spent abroad were shared with friends and “family”, with a big meal in the middle, but an overall sense of taking in a breath of refreshing, spring air, together. Many tourists visit Florence at Easter for the Scoppio, which I hear is lovely, but I’ve never seen in person, even having been there numerous years during the holiday. I can’t say that I’m sorry.
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