For over 300 years the Easter celebration in Florence has included this ritual, during which an elaborate wagon, a structure built in 1679 and standing two to three stories high, is dragged through Florence behind a fleet of white oxen decorated in garlands. The pageantry ends in front of the Basilica di S. Maria del Fiore, where Mass is held. During the midday service, a holy fire is stoked by ancient stone chips from the Holy Sepulcher, and the Archbishop lights a dove–shaped rocket which travels down a wire and collides with the cart in the square, setting off spectacular fireworks and explosions to the cheers of all. A big bang ensures a good harvest, and a parade in medieval costume follows.
Tradition and ritual play a strong role in Italian culture, especially during celebrations such as Easter, the Christian holiday based on the pagan festival called Eostur-Monath. No matter what date Easter falls on, there are many ceremonies and culinary customs that are religiously upheld. Some traditions are regional, for instance the art of palm weaving, in which decorative crosses and other designs are created from the palms received on Palm Sunday.
Easter Ceremonies in Italy
At Vatican City there are a series of solemn events that culminate in Easter Sunday Mass. During the spring holy days that center around the vernal equinox there are also many other rites practiced throughout the country that have their roots in historic pagan rituals. In addition, the Monday following Easter is an official Italian holiday called la Pasquetta, so if traveling be prepared for another day of repose.
- Tredozio: On Easter Monday the Palio dell'Uovo is a competition where eggs are the stars of the games.
- Merano: The Corse Rusticane are conducted, fascinating races with a special breed of horses famous for their blonde manes ridden by youths wearing the local costumes of their towns. Before the race, the participants parade through the streets of the town followed by a band and folk dance groups.
- Barano d'Ischia: On Easter Monday the 'Ndrezzata takes place—a dance which revives the fights against the Saracens.
- Carovigno: On the Saturday before Easter is a procession dedicated to the Madonna del Belvedere during which the 'Nzeghe contest takes place: banners must be hurled as far as possible.
- Enna: Religious rites dating back to the Spanish domination (fifteenth through seventeenth century) take place in this Sicilian town. On Good Friday, the different religious confraternities gather around the main church and over 2,000 friars wearing ancient costumes silently parade through the streets of the city. On Easter Sunday, the Paci ceremony takes place: the statue of the Virgin and that of Jesus Christ are first taken to the main square and then into the church where they stay for a week.