The rituals and processions of Holy Week, the festive menu and the local folkloristic traditions associated with Easter in Naples. This year, Easter falls on 20 April, bringing with it a feeling of spring and a desire for renewal.
Easter in Naples: the rituals and processions of Holy Week and the festive menu
Easter is a moveable feast. It falls on the first Sunday after the full moon following the spring equinox. The Christian world will thus celebrate Easter on 20 April meaning that the weather is likely to be warm, heralding the onset of summer, and bringing with it a desire to shake off the greyness of the past winter months and start afresh, the metaphorical sense of the festivity, associated with the resurrection of Christ.
Holy Week envisages various highly evocative ceremonies. It starts on 17 April with Holy Thursday, when, culinary tradition has it that mussel soup should be eaten in order to tackle the via Crucis without feeling overly full. In fact, during the night between Holy Thursday and Good Friday, according to Neapolitan tradition, it is customary to visit graves at churches. By tradition, you should visit at least three or, however, an odd number. This custom is also known as the “struscio” owing to the fact that in the 18th century, a ban was published forbidding people to circulate with horses and carts in via Toledo. Therefore, in order to observe the grave-visiting ritual, devotees were forced to travel on foot. Because of the number of people thronging the streets, the procession was slow and people tended to drag their feet on the cobblestones. Even the fabrics of the new clothes worn for the occasion tended to rub against each other to produce a rustling sound known in Italian as “struscio”. Good Friday and Easter Saturday are devoted to processions.
For example, in Procida, one of the most important is the procession of “Mysteries”, reenacting the “Passion of Christ”. The young men of the island build and carry heavy allegorical floats, made from one or more planks of wood, measuring up to eight metres, on which representations of the Old and New Testament are mounted. A highly unusual tradition is the one played out on the Coast where, amidst drum rolls, incense and hymns, the “incappucciati”( hooded figures) take to the streets. There are about twenty themed processions scattered between
Castellammare and Massa Lubrense. In Minori a tradition is performed by devotees known as
“battenti” (flagellants) in a bid to expunge their sins: on the Thursday before Easter, from the afternoon onwards, more than one hundred participants, wearing white tunics and thick rope belts parade through the streets in memory of the flagellation. Conversely, early on Friday morning, celebrations start at 5.30am with the chanting of century-old hymns known as “e ‘ncoppe”, a cultural and historic heritage of Minori, protected by the Ministry for Culture and the Environment. After the processions, traditional Easter rituals and mass on Easter Sunday, it’s time to relax and enjoy a lavish traditional Neapolitan Easter
meal. The feast starts with “fellata”, i.e. a series of typical Campanian cold cuts arranged on a huge platter: Neapolitan and Milanese salami, capicollo, a traditional Italian cold cut made from a whole, dry-cured pork shoulder, Parma ham, soppressata, an Italian dry salami, sweet or spicy provolone cheese, mortadella, salted ricotta and hard boiled eggs, garnished with radishes. The meal continues with the so-called “minestra maritata”, a meat and vegetable soup which for centuries was the signature dish of the Kingdom of Naples before being replaced by maccheroni. The main course always includes a dish of roast lamb, a symbol of Easter, served with peas and cheese, oven-roasted potatoes, boiled artichokes either accompanied by a vinaigrette sauce or breaded and fried and fresh fennel. The meal continues with “casatiello ‘nzogna e pepe”, i.e. a sort of savoury, ring-shaped flan made with little bits of salami, grated pecorino cheese, sliced hard boiled eggs, pork fat, flour, yeast and pepper. And, last but not least, “pastiera”, the undisputed king of Neapolitan pastry-making. In the days leading up to Easter, the houses and streets of the city are filled with the aroma of “millefiori” essence, one of the ingredients used to make it, filling the air with delightfully fragrant scents. The Easter holidays end on Easter Monday, also known in Italy as “Pasquetta”, when it is customary for Neapolitans to take a trip out-of-town. The Neapolitans usually organize a picnic lunch. In fact, part of the tradition involves eating the leftovers from the sumptuous Sunday meal!