Many people who haven’t visited Italy often think that Christmas is the big holiday here–Catholicism equals Jesus equals Christmas, right? Well, Jesus’ birth is most definitely celebrated (amazing presepi are everywhere), but in fact, Easter, the day Jesus rose from the dead after being crucified, is hands down the most important holiday in Italy.
I’m not religious (although I was brought up Catholic), but it’s easy to get caught up in the emotions of the Pasqua (Easter) season, particularly in this village.
The festivities begin on Palm Sunday with the blessing of the palms; see Cherrye for more about this tradition. Since I don’t participate, my neighbor makes sure I’m not a complete heathen and always brings me some; this time she also brought me a Calabrian cake traditional for Easter called “cuzzupa.” They are kind of crumbly with a slight lemony flavor, not too sweet and perfect with espresso.
If you’ve been around Italian neighborhoods, perhaps you’ve seen such cuzzupe twisted and shaped into baskets and cradling hard-boiled eggs, but here where I am, they simply make small, glazed cakes usually with rainbow sprinkles.
And, yes, they are delicious. I’ll post a recipe later this week.
Then from Monday through Friday, every morning there is a small procession through the village with a drummer and a small group of male church members dressed in the robes of their brotherhood; each of the village’s 13 churches has a corresponding brotherhood, or organization that keeps its name and activities going. The groups change each morning, and the songs are in a mix of Italian, Calabrese, and Latin–which means I understand precisely nothing.
But you don’t need to understand the words. It’s enough to hear the wails of mourning that their Savior is about to be murdered, martyred. They stop in front of several churches to sing, and are accompanied by a steady, slow drumbeat as they walk through the village.
All of this leads up to grand procession of Sabato Santo (Holy Saturday), which lasts for approximately nine hours, starting at one in the afternoon and ending when the last mass is said in the main church sometime around 10 p.m. People come from all over the area to take part in this special tradition as this village is one of the few around here that still does it.
Participants dress in costumes representing the major and minor players of Christ’s crucifixion, including Christ himself, who is given his cross at one of the lowest points in the hilly village and carries it on his shoulders for the rest of the procession. There are soldiers, penitent sinners, the other two who were crucified with Jesus, the Madonna, and so many more–and then there are the regular folk who are welcome to walk along the path, which touches most of the villages churches, including one on the site of a former monastery.
Then on Sunday is the “Cumprunta,” which is the meeting between the risen Christ and the Madonna on a small incline leading up to one of the churches. Onlookers line the street for a glimpse of the reunion as between them younger boys from the congregations run up and down the hill, accompanied by frantic drumbeats as back and forth, back and forth, they wave their churches’ flags–which are at least five times the size of them.
The statues of the Madonna (dressed in black) and Jesus are on separate platforms carried by groups of men from oppositely situated churches. As the statues get closer and closer, the men run faster and faster so that the statues meet, and at that exact moment, the Madonna’s black clothes are stripped to reveal a beautiful white, celebratory dress–her son has risen.
It is beautiful and moving and wonderful and *sigh.*
I think it’s my favorite moment of every year.
Afterwards there is spontaneous dancing in the street as the drumbeats continue, and the strongest men balance the wooden poles of the enormous flags in their mouths, holding the strings of the flags with their outstretched arms to keep everything in check. And so they dance, looking up at these flags now as high as the houses for as long as they can stand until passing it to the next willing taker.
The other day in the piazza, I saw a little boy practicing with a push broomstick in his mouth, preparing for his future day in the sun. Oh, why hadn’t I brought my camera?!
I give you these tidbits now, but if all goes well with the weather, there will be more information (i.e., photos) to follow later this week. So let’s pray for good weather, shall we?