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Buona Pasqua a Tutti

Posted by on April 20, 2014

Pasqua is upon us and with it comes a whole slew of traditions and cultural norms that are far different than those that I’m used to.  In America, Easter has transformed from a sacred holiday celebrating the resurrection of Christ to a day of chocolate and eggs and the giant bunny who hides them.  Don’t get me wrong–I love the Easter that I know and love.  I love a hollow milk chocolate Easter bunny and Cadburry eggs.  In fact, it doesn’t really feel like Easter without these comforts from home.  In Italy, however, the religious tradition remains strongly in  the way in which Pasqua is celebrated.

Standing on the main street in Sorrento in the chilly 3 a.m. air, I hear a solemn song begin to waft from the side street a few meters away.  Around the corner comes a full band, solemnly marching in time to their music.  They slowly pass by within inches of the crowd on either side, and goosebumps run up my arms.  I know that this is only the beginning.

The band continues down the street, and around the corner come hooded figures, dressed in white, carrying torches on long gilded poles.  I finally understand what the Italians have been talking about: the hoods cover the face, save for the eyes, and are pointed at the top, just like the KKK.  It occurs to me how sad it is that I cannot look at this procession, so holy and solemn, without feeling uncomfortable.

Photo Credit: Morgan McCaskill

Photo by: Morgan McCaskill

The figures pass by, shuffling their feet as they follow one another down the long stretch of street.  Behind them come more, one after another. Many are holding items that hold religious significance.  Some, such as the crown of thorns, I understand.  Others, such as the rooster, I do not.  The music fades away as the band disappears into the night air and their is an eerie silence, broken only by the footsteps of hundreds of hooded individuals.

Photo by: Morgan McCaskill

Photo by: Morgan McCaskill

Someone laughs.  I’m immediately angry.  I may not be Catholic, or even highly religious, but even I know that this is an important, sacred moment.  It should be treated with respect.

The mass of people seems to never end.  I wonder where they’re coming from; are they lined up down the side street? Are they coming from the main cathedral?  Men with crosses slung across their shoulders, men with incense that burns my nose; men with books and flags and men with lanterns, endless men with lanterns.  The glow from the fire in these lanterns illuminates the eyes of these men, visible through the holes cut in their hoods.

Photo by: Morgan McCaskill

Photo by: Morgan McCaskill

Then the children come, all dressed in white.  They follow a hooded adult, clustered together and holding baskets of flowers. I wonder if they’re confused.  I wonder if they’re scared.  After them comes the choir, chanting a haunting recitation.  I don’t understand it fully; perhaps it’s latin.

The last men fall into line from around the corner and follow the enormous procession down the street lined with sleepy-eyed people.  As the last man passes, the lookers-on are suddenly in motion, crossing the street and heading home.  I look down at my watch.  It’s 3:30 a.m.

This type of procession happens the Thursday before Easter at 9 p.m., the next morning at 3 a.m., and the following evening at 9 p.m. again.  The first procession is a mixture of both black and white, the 3 a.m. one is all white, and the Friday procession is all black.  This procession is a part of the Easter celebration that all Italians expect.

Photo by: Morgan McCaskill

Photo by: Morgan McCaskill

Pasqua also means food, as with any holiday in Italy.  People eat massive lunches in the early afternoon and exchange enormous chocolate eggs.  There is, of course, Catholic mass.  The day after Pasqua is also a holiday, called Pasquetta.  As it’s been explained to me, Pasquetta is a day for families to take a picnic to the beach or to the mountains and enjoy each other’s company.

Seeing such an important holiday through the culture of another country was something that I’m so glad to have been able to experience.  So while I didn’t get to have my Easter bunny, I got to see another interpretation of a major holiday, which seems like a pretty good trade-off to me.

Buona Pasqua a tutti, e anche una buona Pasquetta!

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