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  • Easter: An Italian Child's Perspective
    Discover how Italian kids celebrate the most religious holiday of the Catholic calendar
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    Like most religious holidays, Easter is taken more seriously in Italy than it is in the United States. Many people - even those who don't usually go to church - attend Mass throughout Holy Week and on Easter Sunday. Many participate in outdoor reenactments of the Stations of the Cross. Although you'll find chocolate eggs stuffed with toys in many a store window, you will not hear mention of the Easter bunny or chickadees or Peeps. Still, the children in Italy look forward to this time of year and have traditions that uplift their religious faith but also are entertaining.

    For starters, on Palm Sunday, one week before Easter, many children help their parents create gifts - especially crosses - out of palm for friends and family. These gifts are often saved and might even be displayed in homes throughout the year. When the next batch of palm arrives a year later, families dispense of the old palm by burying or burning it but never throwing it away.

    Many children also help their parents dye Easter eggs. But they do not use Paas dye tabs in pastels, which many Italians find suspicious and unnatural. In the weeks leading up to Easter, Italians collect red onion skins to use as a natural dye. They place these skins in a pot of water with vinegar in it. Then, they gently place the eggs in the pot, turn up the heat, and boil the mixture. After 20 minutes or so, the eggs have a dark brown or red color to them.

    These eggs appear wrapped in bread braids and on the antipasto table on Easter Sunday. Some are set aside in a basket. After the Easter meal, children play a game with them. Each child has an egg. One taps the top of the other's egg. The first one whose egg cracks loses. They keep going around the table until only one strong egg survives. (Watch out for cheaters. When my Nonno Giovanni was alive he would famously put his thumb over his egg when we would try tapping it, and we once used wooden eggs in disguise to trick him!)

    Some children have learned about egg hunts. In fact, my soon-to-be niece (when I marry her uncle at the end of the year) Giulia Buono, who lives on the Neapolitan island of Ischia and is the youngest in the family, says the American-style egg hunt has become a happy ritual at her house. “My favorite part of Easter is guessing where eggs are hidden or hiding them and having my parents look for them,” she says.

    There is no Easter bunny in Italy. Bunnies have nothing to do with the holiday there. That might have something to do with the fact that Italian children - and adults for that matter - eat rabbits during Easter and throughout the year. But Italian parents, grandparents, and other friends and relatives are likely to give children and even adults elaborate chocolate Easter eggs with surprises inside. Some people have the eggs made and choose what surprise should be in the center. Others buy the ones already made at the grocery stores and candy shops. They are usually wrapped in a colorful metallic paper with a ribbon.

    Children, in turn, usually prepare and read poems for their parents and loved ones while everyone is seated around the Easter table. This same tradition takes place at Christmas and other major holidays. Sometimes, loved ones offer some change to the little ones as reward for their speeches.

    The holiday becomes about family – even for the little ones. "Being together is the best part of Easter," says my other soon-to-be niece Laura Porraro, who also lives in Ischia and is in elementary school. "Enjoying together, playing together is what I like most."

    Easter dinner is a bit adult for the kids. The main dessert in Naples, for instance, is pastiera, a wheat pie that often contains dried citrus bits and symbolizes renewal. That doesn't go over great with kids whose taste buds tend to be much simpler. But families usually also have plenty of Italian pastries on hand to keep the kiddies happy.

    The day after Easter, known as Pasquetta, is fun for children of all ages. The whole country heads to the beaches or mountains, parks or camping grounds. There, they have delicious picnics and enjoy an extra day off from work or school. It's a time to leave your family behind and hang out with your friends. For very little children, it's a time to romp around with siblings and cousins. It's a sign that spring is around the corner – and summer won't be far behind.

    Di Meglio is a freelance writer and the Newlyweds Guide for About.com at http://newlyweds.about.com. You can get more information about all things Italian and Di Meglio's work at http://www.francescadimeglio.com.

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