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The Dashing Madonna of Sulmona, dressed in black, prior to seeing the statute of the Resurrected Christ.

Unusual Italian Celebrations for Easter

La Pasqua is normally marked with many traditional and religious celebrations throughout Italy. It is a time for rejoicing in the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ and for feasting after following the sacrifices of Lent. This year, as Italy reaches the apex of the virus epidemic, families are still attempting to as many as the traditions as possible in this trying times of social distancing.

The traditional holiday meal is succulent roast lamb and Brodetto Pasquale soup. Then there are the Easter eggs – they can be hollow chocolate eggs with small toys inside or hardboiled eggs which have been painted in vibrant, lively colors and patterns. Eggs also feature prominently in the dishes served, whether as an ingredient in soups, or in various kinds of breads. Traditional gifts include a variety of sweet breads, such as the dove shaped Colomba.

Like all holidays in Italy, Pasqua has its share of rituals and traditions. We have no doubt that in 2021, these traditions, processions and celebrations will reemerge with a sincerity and joy that has not been seen in generations. Here are some of our favorite unusual celebrations that we normally look forward to each year.

The Dashing Madonna is celebrated during Holy Week in the town of Sulmona, which is located in the Province of L’Aquila, Abruzzo. Its origins are uncertain. The Brotherhood of Santa Maria di Loreto that organizes the event called the Lauretani, have a photograph dating back to 1861, but the tradition is thought to date back to the Middle Ages. The feast of the dashing Madonna commemorates the meeting between the Virgin Mary and the Risen Christ. After Mass is celebrated by the Bishop in the Church of Santa Maria della Tomba, the procession of the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Loreto parades through the streets of the city.

At the front stands the green banner of the Brotherhood followed by the brothers who carry lanterns, statues of the Risen Christ and the Saints John and Peter. The statue of the Risen Christ is placed at the entrance of the square, under the central arch Aqueduct Svevo. At the other end of the square is the statue of the Madonna, dressed in mourning and waiting for the two Apostles John and Peter. The statue of Saint John approaches the statue of Our Lady symbolizing the announcement of the Resurrection of the Son. According to legend, the Virgin Mary did not believe the news and St. John returns to Saint Peter in hopes that the Virgin Mother might believe him. When the Madonna finally recognizes her Risen Son, her black veil and coat appear to magically disappear revealing a cloak of green, embroidered with gold and a red rose, as a dozen doves are released. At noon, the Madonna begins its run to meet Christ, accompanied by the notes of the band, by the applause of the crowd and the explosion of firecrackers.

Ischia – The Angel’s Run – The Angels Run in Forio, on the Isle of Ischia in the Gulf of Naples, in other years takes place in the late morning of Easter Day. The Passion Play, called the “Angel Run” is organized by the ancient Confraternity of Santa Maria Visitapoveri. Its origins go back to at least 1618. The previous statue of the angel dates back to 1620, but given its age, the angel no longer runs, but still resides in the Arciconfraternita Church. Instead a copy was made in the last generation and continues the tradition for the faithful. The ceremony re-enacts an angel taking the message that Christ has risen to the Virgin Mary and St. John the Apostle. The Angel runs three times along the streets of Matteo Verde and Francesco Regine in order to proclaim the resurrection of Christ. Once Mary meets with her risen son, the veil falls from her face and the bells ring out. The angel sings the ‘Regina Coeli’ and onlookers throw colorful confetti, while all around, fireworks break out to the thunderous applause of the thousands that have gathered for the event.

Vasa Vasa (Kiss, Kiss/Cheek to Cheek) – On any other Easter Sunday morning in the town of Modica in southeast Sicily, there are two processions. Two sets of bearers carry a statue of the Risen Christ and the other one of the Virgin Mary clad in back. They are carried around the town’s main street, Corso Umberto, until they meet. A statue of the risen Christ and that of the Virgin Mary are taken out of a church at the same time, but then follow opposite procession routes. At this time, the Virgin Mary is dressed in black to signify her mourning. The two processions end at the town square, with the two statues facing each other at a distance. The black garb is removed from the Virgin Mary, revealing a celestial blue cloak and red dress, as a sign of her joy at the return of Christ. The two statues are then moved closer to each other and with the help of skilled assistants, it is made to look as if the Madonna is leaning over to kiss Christ Italian style, with a kiss on each cheek. In the Sicilian dialect, it is called the ‘Vasa Vasa.’ At the same moment, a brass band plays as church bells ring and fireworks explode. Confetti then bursts from her golden crown as doves are released in the air as a symbol of peace.