Some Holidays, like July 4 and New Year’s Day, give me a gross and depressing feeling. Those days are usually slow and dreary. The anti-climatic, hangover feeling of New Years Day, which usually is cold and gray anyway, is the worst. The exact opposite of those feelings, for me, happen during Easter. I do not want to jinx it, but Easter has always been my favorite holiday. I even once had a miserable Easter with my mother in the hospital, but the true meaning of Easter is strong enough to always remind me why I love it. Though I very much dislike it when Easter comes early (pretty much anytime in March), it still fills me with Joy.
The weather part of Easter is very important. If it’s a warm and sunny day, Easter is the feeling I want everyday. I absolutely cannot stand the extreme cold. In New York, we get some winters which are usually below freezing for months and seem never-ending. Easter comes around Spring time and it’s Message of Hope is tied in with the excitement that Spring is coming. The air is not as cold and hurtful and the sun feels a bit warmer.
Spring is beautiful because everything is being re-born. The leaves are coming back, people are coming out, and there is a vibrant energy that was cast away into an abyss of hibernation for many months. For Christians, it is important to be “born again”. Jesus taught Nicodemus, a Pharisee who began to question the rigid and cold stranglehold the elite had on people, their faith, and their eternal futures, that ” Very Truly I tell you, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless they are born again.” In the Book Of Revelations, there is also a beautful quote ” Behold, I make all things new.”
We all want new things. We actually want new everything. Superficially, we focus on new jeans, new car, new hair styles etc. When we want more important things, we end up wanting a new, more youthful body. In the end, what we really crave, and need, is a new Spirit. The Soul needs to be rejuvenated. This is why the above two quotes from the Bible are so important and beautiful. They are central points Easter makes.
Also, please note how Jesus spoke. So often he used he word “truly” or “Amen”, which means Truth, at the BEGINNING of His sentences. Amen was and is something said to affirm what someone else said. If I were to say, “The Yankees are the best!”, and then someone would say “Amen”, it would mean, “Yes, that is true. What you said is true.” But Jesus states imediately that what He is about to say is True. Talk about vision and boldness!
The second quote “Behold, I make all things new” came from the Book of Revelations and was perfectly placed in a scene where Jesus talks to his Mother as He carries the Cross in the movie “The Passion of the Christ.” Though there was a lot of controversy around that movie, I honestly think if people get past that and see the film as adapted from the Bible, they would instantly place it as one of the top 10 of all time. It really was a brilliant masterpiece. One thing, of the many, that was so powerfully done in the movie was the use of flashbacks from the Last Supper during the scenes where Jesus was on the Cross.
During the Last Supper, Jesus offered wine and said, “All of you must drink from it, for this is my Blood, the Blood of the Covenant, to be poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Then He said, “Do this in memory of Me”. This fulfilled the Old Covenant, and, let’s remember, the word Covenant is also another word for Testament. Jesus’ Blood replaced the Lamb’s Blood that washed us of our sins. He became the ultimate Sacrifice, the sinless and spotless Lamb of God.
Easter is the Christian Passover. In Judaism, Passover was the time when Moses and his followers were spared Death if they put Lamb’s Blood on the door frames of their homes. The blood of the lamb was what saved them from the Angel of Death; Death “passed over” (hence Passover) their homes. Lamb’s Blood is also very important in the Old Testament because the animal was slaughtered to “pay” for the sins of humans. Jesus, the ultimate, sacrificial Lamb and known as the Lamb of God, came to shed His Blood for our sins. His Blood replaced the Lamb’s and by entering into Human History, our relationship with someOne we can understand better and appreciate, bridges the gap between us and God. It is all absolutely brilliant, actually. The film “The Passion of the Christ” does a very good job of tying this with so many other themes and events in the Bible together.
Just like Jesus declared that the wine was His Blood, He also declared that the Bread to be eaten at the Last Supper was His Body, recalling beautifully when He said” I am the Bread of Life; he who comes to me shall not hunger.” He also went on to say “He who eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood shall have eternal Life; and I shall raise him up at the Last Day.”
These important tie-ins, overlaps, and intentional parallels are essential to understanding Easter.
No article of Piazza Life would be complete without SOME mention of Italy. There is nothing more beautiful than Easter in Italy. One could say an Easter in Jerusalem would be the most beautiful, and it surely would be terrific, but Italians do it up more than anyone for anything involving “La Dolce Vita”.
Christianity is so important to Italy and plays such an integral part of its History, that even the Communists in Italy (and Italy is full of Communists) respect it. A popular Italian name (especially in the South), Pasquale, is derived from the Italian word for Easter : Pasqua. With the Catholic Church headquartered out of Rome, and most of History’s Art commissioned by the Church, just walking around the country gives you the re-born feeling of Easter. In Italy, Religious Holidays are on steroids. And nothing exemplifies this better than the foods eaten.
The foods Italians eat for Easter also tie in with the meaning of it. There’s a lot of Meaning for Easter and Italians sure do prepare a lot of different foods.
Eggs play a prominent role in Easter meals. Even outisde of Christiany, eggs symbolize birth. For Easter, eggs surely imply Christ’s Resurrection, a sort of re-Birth. Supposedly, when Catholics abstain from meat, they used to also avoid eggs. Since humans cannot stop chickens from laying eggs, there was an egg surplus, giving Christians the idea of giving the eggs as gifts (even outside Christianty this is done) and even coloring and decorating them.
Obviously, it got out of hand, and eventually egg gifting and decorating had nothing to do with Christ (see Faberge’ eggs). Chocate eggs with gifts inside also became very big across Europe. These are all great and fun but the true meaning of Easter can easily be lost, and sadly, for most, it has been.
For an Italian Easter, “menus” vary according to not only regions, but even houses 25 feet apart in the same town. The Easter meal I know, grew up with, and fondly cherish starts with Affettati, which are cured meats, like different sorts of Salami, Prosciutto, Coppa, Soppressata, Capocollo, and cheeses like Pecorino, Provolone etc. These are served with hard boiled eggs, usually sliced in half, and maybe served with a little pepper and a squeeze of lemon.
Since there are too many differences in regional cooking all over Italy, I cannot possibly mention each region’s traditional Easter dishes. I will just highlight ones I like and/or grew up with. A Neapolitan Easter is not complete without Casatiello, which is a bread from Naples made during Easter with pizza dough that is stuffed with strutto (rendered pork fat), salame, and cheese. Some people like to also add Ciccioli (cracklings). Hard-boiled eggs are set in the dough and two strips are placed over it, resembling the Crucifix. There is also a sweet Casatiello, found mostly in and around Caserta, which uses eggs and sugar.
Also a necessity for a Neapolitan Easter is Pizza Rustica (AKA Pizza Chiena), which is a tart made with cheese and meats such as mozzarella, ricotta, prosciutto, and mortadella. This differs form Casatiello in that Pizza Chiena is mostly cheese on the inside and the outer dough is like puff pastry-esque, while Casateillo is heavy on the bread and has a crust-like exterior. The Northern Italian counterpart to Pizza Rustica would be a Torta Pasqualina, which is a Torte with mixed greens (usually spinach and chard) and cheese.
Though asparagus are in season and eaten a lot during Spring time, Artichokes make a huge presence on Italian tables for Easter. The Carciofi (artichokes) can be prepared in many ways: roasted, in polpette (“meat”balls), in a lasagne, or even stuffed, among many other preparations. Chicory is usually eaten with small pieces of chicken meat in a broth.
Pasta, of course, is always present. My family prefers to make homemade Fusilli; however, they are not as curly as the store bought ones, but in fact are much longer and flatter. The sauce for the pasta will have the flavor from the meat cooked in it, as well as a few bits that came off during the cooking.
As for the main meat served after the Pasta, Lamb or Goat are necessary. We usually serve other meats as well, but either Lamb or Goat, especially Lamb, tie in to the symbolism of Easter. Funny side note : my wife’s grandparent’s dog hates the smell of lamb (so does my wife) and barks at the Lamb as it roasts. Since my family exaggerrates everything, we serve different Lamb prepartations. One of my favorites is Lamb with eggs and peas.
No Easter, especially and Italian one, would be complete without Dessert. The Italian Easter counterpart to Christmas’ Panettone and Pandoro is the Colomba. Colomba means dove and this bready cake, which I never liked, is shaped like a dove. While La Colomba makes an appearance, Neapolitans’ greatest Easter culinary accomplishment is La Pastiera, a ricotta-wheatberry cake flavored with zest of citron. Pastiera is so addictive that Neapolitans now eat it year-round.
Italians, of course, have to go one step further, always. After Easter (Pasqua), Italians celebrate Pasquetta (Little Easter) the very next day. Usually, people like to celebrate this day by going to the country side or the mountains. A great thing to eat for Pasquetta is Frittata di Spaghetti(AKA Pizza di Spaghetti) which is usually left over pasta mixed with eggs, cheese, and perhaps chopped meat that is baked or cooked in a pan to resemble a cake. Also great for this day-after Feast is La Parmigiana di Carciofi, which along with Parmigiana di Zucchine, is the lesser known compared to the classic Parmigiana di Melanzane (Eggplant).
Easter is taken very seriously in Italy, even by non-religious people. Since there are two types of people :Italians and those who want to be Italian, maybe the world would be a better place if we all celebrated Easter every day, preferably the Italian way.
It is believed that everything is Energy and all Energy is Vibration. In Near Death Experiences, people recall the bright colors of white light (mostly) and lush, verdant pastures. Colors are provocative and evoke things we were connected to before we were born. Easter is full of Life, giving colors with deep meaning such as yellow (the sun), purple (royalty), green(hope, grass), pink(a fresh,new beginning), light blue, (sky) royal blue(birth of Jesus), red (blood), and white (purity). It is amazing to note the striking similarites between what people experience in “non-religious” After Lives and what Jesus spoke about. The way EVERYthing about Him is interconnected and climaxes on Easter is the best feeling you get when it all starts to make Sense.
Photo is from my trip to the Middle East many years ago. In this photo, we see a tomb in Jerusalem around the time of Christ that the Protestants believe was the Tomb of Christ. Inside, there were Cross markings on the wall, suggesting, at the very least, it was a very early Christian Tomb. Catholics and Ortohodox Christians believe Jesus’ Tomb is elsewhere and part of the foundation of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. (1192)