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Make Sweet Easter Last
Part 1 of 2: Celebrate Pasquetta with a picnic like the Italians and make your holiday endure one more day
Do you find yourself wishing for one more day off after a holiday or vacation? Well, you're not alone. Apparently, the Italian government felt the same way after the war, which might be why they made the day after Easter, known as Easter Monday among English speakers and Pasquetta among Italians, a legal holiday. One of my favorite Italian traditions, Pasquetta is more than an extra day off work and school. It's the unofficial start of spring and a chance to get reacquainted with family, friends, and most of all nature.
The day has religious significance as well. Italian Catholics might know it as Lunedì dell' Angelo or the day to remember the women of the sepulcher, including Mary Magdalene, who were comforted by an angel when they returned to Jesus' tomb and found it empty. But the day after Easter is not a holy day of obligation, and therefore remains mostly secular. In fact, until the 19th century, the entire week after Easter was set aside as a time to kick back and relax. Then, at some point, the fun was reduced to one day. And in some places, including most of the United States, it is not even celebrated.
For Italians, however, Pasquetta is one of the most delicious feasts. It is the day of the picnic. The Italians go out in droves to the mountains or the beaches and set up camp with packed lunches or portable grills. They eat things like frittatas (omelets) or hard boiled eggs and an assortment of grilled meats. Of course, in the south tortaniello, a type of rustica, and pastiera are the only cakes on the menu.
The best part? You get to choose with which gang you travel. "Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi" or "Christmas with your family, Easter with the family and friends of your choice," say many Italians. Many young people head out with their friends and make a full day of it. One of my cousins spent last Pasquetta hiking in the woods with her amici. I once spent Pasquetta touring the back roads of Capri. And my husband Antonio has eaten his Pasquetta lunch at Maronti, the largest and most popular beach in Italy. With crashing waves in the background and that sweet yet salty air, a picnic on the beach at the start of spring will revive your senses.
Even the tradition of the picnic might have historical meaning. Wikipedia reports that some people say traveling through the outdoors might be a way to remember the journeying disciples at Emmaus, who saw a resurrected Jesus in front of them just steps away from Jerusalem. The one thing I know for sure is that Pasquetta is as good an excuse as any to get a little fresh air and spend time with loved ones.
I can still remember the taste of the grilled zucchini with a squirt of lemon, sweet sausage and fresh-from-the-garden lettuce that I ate one Pasquetta in Italy. A young man in attendance, who handled a car like Michael Schumacher, drove us to the beach with all the windows open. As the crisp air crashed against my face, I felt the relief you experience at the first signs of spring, when you can leave your winter coat and wool hat in the closet and whip out a pair of flip flops, when the garden buds again and the tulips start to open. It is a time to savor. It is a time to reflect. It is a time to enjoy.
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