Easter in one of the most Catholic cities in the world is, as you'd imagine, a pretty big deal. Easter in Rome is celebrated at the thousands of Catholic churches in the city and the festivities continue for over a week, including the holy week before Easter and the Monday after Easter, Pasquetta. While the city, and most noticeably the Vatican, are crowded at this time, it's easier to manage the crowds and plan your Easter activities by looking ahead. Here's a breakdown of Holy Week, religious celebrations on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday, with some information about how Italians celebrate this holiday in their homes.
While the Easter season starts on Ash Wednesday and is proceeded by weeks of Carnivale, holy week celebrations kick off on Thursday. The Thursday before his death is when Jesus is said to have washed the feet of his disciples, showing humility and compassion. The pope emulates this behavior every year and Pope Francis has taken this tradition to the extreme. He chooses to personally wash the feet of the impoverished or weak groups of our society, including immigrants last year. To attend the washing of the feet mass, you can attend the 9:30 mass at St. Peter's Basilica (reserve free tickets here).
Good Friday is not a national holiday in Italy, but it is celebrated in religious circles and has become very reverent for many Italians. In Rome, the Pope will be making a torchlit procession from the Colosseum to the Roman Forum. For all those who are looking on, Pope Francis stops at the 14 stations of the cross, mimicking the journey that Jesus took to the site of his crucification, and gives a benediction to the crowd.
Easter Sunday masses are celebrated all day on Sunday and also start earlier, with midnight vigil masses Saturday night at most churches. While almost every church in Rome will be hosting an Easter mass, finding an English speaking one is a bit more challenging. The Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs (Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri) always holds English international mass, but here's a comprehensive list for English Easter masses in Rome in 2019.
If you’d like to reserve tickets to any of the Holy Week masses, you can head to this link here. Be advised that while they are free, the tickets are reserved very far in advanced for popular masses like Easter Sunday.
Little Easter (Pasquetta)
The Italian saying goes, "Pasqua con i tuoi, Pasquetta con chi vuoi", or Easter with your family, Easter Monday with who you want! Little Easter is a national holiday here and is often celebrated outside of the city, at the beach or the countryside, or even in one of Rome's many parks. It's a chance to get away from the heavy Easter festivities and see friends, while enjoying the (hopefully) nice spring weather. This year we'll either spend it in a park, or with friends at an agriturismo outside of Rome.
Of course, Italian Easter lunch is a BIG DEAL. It requires multiple courses and hours spent at the table with family. The day might start off with rich, hot Italian chocolate, and other sweets, in lieu of an Easter egg hunt provided by the Easter Bunny.
For lunch, all of the mammas slow roast abbacchio (lamb) in the oven and start everyone off with a huge plate of pasta, followed by the lamb, spring vegetables and classic Easter desserts. It's a day where you eat until you're so full you can't move and that's the way they like it.