03 April 2007
pasqua in calabria

Many people who haven't visited Italy often think that Christmas is the big holiday here --Catholicism equals Jesus equals Christmas, right? Well, Jesus' birth is most definitely celebrated (amazing presepi are everywhere), but in fact, Easter, the day Jesus rose from the dead after being crucified, is hands down the most important holiday in Italy.

I'm not religious (although I was brought up Catholic), but it's easy to get caught up in the emotions of the Pasqua (Easter) season, particularly in this village.

The festivities begin on Palm Sunday with the blessing of the palms; see Cherrye for more about this tradition. Since I don't participate, my neighbor makes sure I'm not a complete heathen and always brings me some; this time she also brought me a Calabrian cake traditional for Easter called "cuzzupa." They are kind of crumbly with a slight lemony flavor, not too sweet and perfect with espresso.

If you've been around Italian neighborhoods, perhaps you've seen such cuzzupe twisted and shaped into baskets and cradling hard-boiled eggs, but here where I am, they simply make small, glazed cakes usually with rainbow sprinkles.

And, yes, they are delicious.
I'll post a recipe later this week.


Then from Monday through Friday, every morning there is a small procession through the village with a drummer and a small group of male church members dressed in the robes of their brotherhood; each of the village's 13 churches has a corresponding brotherhood, or organization that keeps its name and activities going.
The groups change each morning, and the songs are in a mix of Italian, Calabrese, and Latin--which means I understand precisely nothing.

But you don't need to understand the words. It's enough to hear the wails of mourning that their Savior is about to be murdered, martyred. They stop in front of several churches to sing, and are accompanied by a steady, slow drumbeat as they walk through the village.


All of this leads up to grand procession of Santo Sabato (Holy Saturday), which lasts for approximately nine hours, starting at one in the afternoon and ending when the last mass is said in the main church sometime around 10 p.m. People come from all over the area to take part in this special tradition as this village is one of the few around here that still does it.

Participants dress in costumes representing the major and minor players of Christ's crucifixion, including Christ himself, who is given his cross at one of the lowest points in the hilly village and carries it on his shoulders for the rest of the procession. There are soldiers, penitent sinners, the other two who were crucified with Jesus, the Madonna, and so many more--and then there are the regular folk who are welcome to walk along the path, which touches most of the villages churches, including one on the site of a former monastery.

Then on Sunday is the "Cunfrunta," which is the meeting between the risen Christ and the Madonna on a small incline leading up to one of the churches. Onlookers line the street for a glimpse of the reunion as between them younger boys from the congregations run up and down the hill, accompanied by frantic drumbeats as back and forth, back and forth, they wave their churches' flags--which are at least five times the size of them.

The statues of the Madonna (dressed in black) and Jesus are on separate platforms carried by groups of men from oppositely situated churches. As the statues get closer and closer, the men run faster and faster so that the statues meet, and at that exact moment, the Madonna's black clothes are stripped to reveal a beautiful white, celebratory dress--her son has risen.

It is beautiful and moving and wonderful and *sigh.*

I think it's my favorite moment of every year.

Afterwards there is spontaneous dancing in the street as the drumbeats continue, and the strongest men balance the wooden poles of the enormous flags in their mouths, holding the strings of the flags with their outstretched arms to keep everything in check. And so they dance, looking up at these flags now as high as the houses for as long as they can stand until passing it to the next willing taker.

The other day in the piazza, I saw a little boy practicing with a push broomstick in his mouth, preparing for his future day in the sun. Oh, why hadn't I brought my camera?!

I give you these tidbits now, but if all goes well with the weather, there will be more information (i.e., photos) to follow later this week. So let's pray for good weather, shall we?

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25 Comments:

That sounds like a beautiful tradition. I finally got back to Mass last Sunday (Palm Sunday) and brought home my palm leaves. It kind of makes me chuckle how children and adults, alike, will sit there during the readings, etc., and weave their palms into crosses. I waited until I got home, but was thinking the whole time that maybe it would be a good thing to have "arts and crafts" provided each Sunday to keep some people from getting antsy. ;-) I'll wish you a happy Easter now, as tomorrow morning I'm having surgery on the top of my mouth and will be on pain killers for a few days and not very communicative. Hmm, I wonder how ham and scalloped potatoes taste in a blender? Yuck! Maybe I'll just melt my chocolate bunny and call it dinner. LOL!

Christina

Anonymous bella said...

That's awesome! I loved reading this. It's interesting learning how different countries celebrate the various holidays.
Yes, I'm praying for good weather because this year I'm hosting my first ever Easter egg hunt.

Blogger sognatrice said...

Christina, ah, the cross palms! Yes! Happy Easter to you as well, and best of luck with the surgery :)

Bella, Easter Egg Hunt?! Wow!!! I hope there will be photographic evidence....

Blogger Vanessa said...

wow, you gave me goosebumps!
From your descriptions, the Italian traditions are very similar to the Spanish ones I remember so well.
Aaaah and the food: bunyols de cuaresma (little buns typical during Lent in Catalonia), and la mona de pascua (a decorated cake which is given by godparents to their godchildren on Easter Sunday in Catalonia).
Our much more boring tradition here in Ireland consists of chocolate easter eggs (although hunting is fun!)... and I do like me some hot cross buns with some creamy irish butter on good friday!
Mmmmm
Enjoy the cazzupa and the processions and the Looking forward to seeing your pix!
Vx

Hi
sorry for my english... Great post about Easter celebrations in Italy. But traditions change in all Italian regions. "Cuzzupa" is a tipycal product of southern italy or maybe of Calabria only, and I like it so much. Thanks for leave a post on my blog, hope to see you there again. Happy Easter, Antonino

Blogger sognatrice said...

Vanessa, those hot cross buns sound good too!

Antonino, thanks for stopping by! Yes, Easter traditions change all throughout Italy, and I hope more expat bloggers will write more for us.

And everyone, just as Cherrye says on her blog, you should go check out Antonio's photoblog!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

O.K., Sognatrice, now thaaat's what I was looking for. We *have* to be there for this celebration next Easter!!

When I lived in Arlington, VA I would go to the Stations of the Cross over at a monastery in DC - it was very somber...especially when the huge congregation would sing the lamentation "were you there when they crucified my Lord....sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble - were you there when they crucified my Lord? I wonder if they sing something like this in Italian?

I will pray for the rest of the days of Holy Week to be sunny and warm - and holy - so you will sigh.

Peace,
Wunschdenker

Blogger Gina said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Blogger Gina said...

Somehow, I accidentally deleted the post I just left!

So here it is again!

Hello there!

Oh how I love Easter bread! I saw the picture of it in your post and started drooling. My grandmom had a lady friend who used to make Easter bread shaped like dolls for me and my sisters. And they had their arms crossed in the front, holding a hard-boiled egg. She called them "egg dolls." She was such a sweet woman. Dilette Coravachioli was her name.

Up the street where my grandmom lived was also a guy who was a baker, Ernie Bucciero. And he would make Easter bread too. Really, really good bread. (He would also dress up like Ben Franklin on occasion....)

Anyway, is it any wonder why I am carb addicted in my adult years?

Blogger JennDZ said...

Buona Pasqua Sognatrice!

Last year at Easter was when Roberto and I were falling in love. We spent Easter together and we both called our mom's and I remember when we were talking to his relatives saying "Buona Pasqua!" about a gazillion times! :)

Hope you have a great one!

Blogger cheeky said...

Thanks for a lovely post. I am welled up with emotion.
It's a beautiful reminder of what the celebration of Easter is truly for.
Our Lord and Saviour, cruxified on the cross for the forgiveness of all sins.
Jesus lives in our hearts, not in a religion so I am not surprised of the emotions and that this celebration is beautiful and moving and wonderful to you.
Thank you for sharing and you can count me in on prayer. I look forward to good weather so you can share more with us.

Blogger Kimberly said...

You create in me such a yearning to travel and experience such things first hand. *sigh* is right!

Blogger Erin said...

What a beautiful portrayal of the celebration. Wish I was there to experience it first hand.

Blogger Michellanea said...

Oh, wow, you are living in a different (probably "the real") Italy! Up here in Milan, Easter is merely an excuse to take a long weekend. In fact, the Milanese say "Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi" (Christmas with the family, Easter with whomever you wish) and head out of town as soon as possible. Not that I'm religious, but I do find it strange that I have yet to spend an actual Easter in a family setting here as my husband's family all skips town. We usually go out for Chinese and crack open a chocolate egg by ourselves after. :)

Blogger Jane said...

Wow! I love the detail of the festivities. It's fascinating to read about other cultures and how they honor their religion. So many of the European towns are so lovely and preserved...unlike the States where builders tear down everything to put up new shopping malls :((

I'm in the process of filling the easter eggs with candy for the annual egg hunt that I do with my children.

Blogger Ally Bean said...

These traditions you describe sound so much more real and meaningful than the Peeps chicks and hollow chocolate bunnies on plastic grass in flimsy baskets that are what I know of Easter celebrations.

Very nice, indeed.

Blogger Veronica TM said...

beautiful traditions! they remind me of the 'pascua' traditions from argentina, growing up. i can't wait to see more photos {hoping for nice weather!}.

Blogger Bre said...

There's something about tradition like that that we just suck at over here. Sigh.

Blogger Antonella said...

Ciao Sogna',
Antonino's right. All Italian southerners make some sort of Easter bread/cake in various shapes, all with different dialectal names. Your Calabrian version is glazed, just like the ones we make in our town in Molise. Ours are called "pigne" and can be ring-shaped or in the form of a colomba. My mom would put colored eggs in it. Please also check out rubbah slippas' blog about Sicilian 'cuddura' (http://www.rubbahslippahsinitaly.blogspot.com). Buona Pasqua, Antonella

Blogger Marmite Breath said...

I wish I was there. Nobody does that stuff like the Italians.

And yes, I must see pictures!!

Blogger sognatrice said...

Wunsch, you know you're welcome to come down here any Easter you please--you will love it. And I *so* remember that song; I get chills just thinking of it. The melody is definitely different here, but I wouldn't be surprised if the words were the same.

Gina, thanks for sharing such great memories! I had a neighbor who made egg dolls too!

Jenn, what a lovely Easter memory you have...hard to beat that with chocolate bunnies ;)

Cheeky, I'm glad some of the emotion came through in the post--it's difficult to put into words the feeling that's in the air, but, yes, even the least religious seem to feel it.

Kimberly and Erin, there's always next year :)

Michelle, here they do Christmas with yours, New Year's with whomever you wish...Easter is a big family thing, but then comes Pasquetta (Pascuna in dialect) on Monday for friends to hang out, often taking off into the campagna to just eat and relax--you know, recover from all the family stress of Easter ;)

Jane, another Easter Egg Hunt! Yeah! Another great tradition continues! See Ally and Bre... traditions are everywhere ;)

Veronica, I hope you'll share more about the Argentinian traditions--and I shall do my very best for photos!

Antonella, now that you mention the colomba, I remember last year's dove-shaped cakes in stores and given as gifts around here; haven't seen them this year yet. Thanks for the Slippahs link :)

Marmite Breath, now that you have spoken, there *will* be photos!

This Easter, as always, I will be alone far from family.

I have no traditions to hold on to out here and getting a peeps from the CVS drugstore isn't quite cutting it. :)

Anyway it really as nice to read your post.

Anonymous Valerie said...

Beautiful post. It's always seemed strange to me that so much emphasis is placed on Christmas instead of Easter, and that so few know it's the highest holy day of the year. It's actually our favorite holiday. Strangely, there aren't many deeply meaningful celebrations like you describe here in Ascoli. And they gave out olive branches instead of palms, which is kinda cool, though.

Blogger Buffy said...

Good grief I love this blog!

Blogger Melissa R. Garrett said...

I bet this is absolutely amazing to see. I am hardly a religious person, but it doesn't take much to turn me into a state of weepy mush. I'm sure this would do it!

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