Easter: Italian EXPRESSIONS & PROVERBS

Spring has just begun, and it has already changed so much: flowers have been blossoming, days have been getting longer, the weather is much better – but this also means that Easter is coming! For this reason, I have decided to tell you a little bit about this holiday. In fact, in this article (and in the video) we will see why Easter is called “Pasqua” in Italian, the symbols and traditions connected to it, and I will also tell you some expressions that, despite being Easter-related, are actually used throughout the year.

EASTER: ORIGINS AND EXPRESSIONS

Easter, just like Christmas, is a Christian holiday that commemorates an event in Jesus’ life. This makes it a very important day in Italy, where many expressions and symbols connected to it are actually used all year. Do you know anything about the origins of this holiday? Or Italian Easter traditions? If you don’t, do not worry because you will find all you need to know right here.

Ready? Let’s start!

ORIGINS, TRADITIONS AND SYMBOLS

WHAT IS EASTER?

Easter is a religious festival during which Christians commemorate the Resurrezione di Gesù Cristo (the Resurrection of Jesus Christ) after his death, which took place on a Friday. In Italian, we call the Friday that comes before Easter “Venerdì Santo” (literally translated as “Holy Friday”, it corresponds to Good Friday).

WHEN IS EASTER CELEBRATED?

When it comes to the date, Easter is different from Christmas: the latter has a fixed date and is celebrated on 25 December every year; meanwhile Easter has a “variable” date. Despite the actual date changing every year, it is always celebrated on a Sunday and, to be more precise, on the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring – this means that it can fall anywhere between March 22 and April 25.

WHAT DOES THE NAME “PASQUA” MEAN?

As we have already said, Easter is called PASQUA in Italian, and that’s because the English name comes from Old-English and Proto-Germanic whereas the Italian comes from ancient Greek and Aramaic. In fact, in Greek it’s pascha (or páskha/πάσχα) and in Aramaic it’s pasah (o pāsaḥ) …it makes much more sense, doesn’t it? It makes even more sense knowing that they both mean “passing over”, with the obvious reference to Jesus’ passage from death to life!

WHAT ARE THE SYMBOLS AND TRADITIONS RELATED TO EASTER IN ITALY?

Here in Italy, there are many different symbols related to Easter but the most popular one is probably EGGS because they represent rebirth, life that starts again, exactly like Jesus’ resurrection, his rebirth after death.
In the past, there was a very strict tradition: during the period of penance that precedes Easter, known as Quaresima (Lent), it was prohibited to consume eggs. Obviously, hens did not stop producing them, so by the end of Lent, there were plenty of them and, on Easter day, they would get painted, decorated, and exchanged as gifts.
From the XX century onward, another tradition spread: chocolate eggs. Here in Italy, they are the most important tradition for kids, who enjoy receiving these big chocolate eggs wrapped in beautiful, colorful plastic gift wrap and that contain surprise inside. Nowadays, there are chocolate eggs of every kind and brand, containing more or less expensive surprises; they are usually exchanged between friends and family.

As a result of EGGS, another Easter symbol is little CHICKS, an obvious reference to life…so cute! Actually, there are many animals associated to this holiday, such as RABBITS. Why? Well, because they are incredibly fertile animals so, once again, there’s this idea of rebirth and life that restarts as spring arrives.

We also have LAMBS, which were the most commonly sacrificed animals during pagan rituals. The meaning is obvious: they represent sacrifice, giving your life for others, which is exactly what Jesus did for all humankind. Italians usually eat lamb on Easter day in many different ways – roasted, baked, “oriental-style” (cooked with butter, milk, and lard), and with vegetables…

Carrying on with this theme, we have yet another animal that has become a symbol of Easter: DOVE. As you probably already know, doves are a symbol of peace, which is essentially what Easter brings – peace and calm for everybody, together with hope for a new life. It is often depicted with another symbol of peace, an olive branch, in its beak.
It is not a coincidence that the counterpart of the Christmas dessert panettone, is called Colomba Pasquale/di Pasqua (Easter Dove): it’s made of a dough containing candied fruits (or chocolate), fashioned and cooked into a dove shape, and then topped with pearl sugar and almonds. So no, this typical dessert does not involve the mistreatment of any real dove!

Joy and celebration, typical of this holiday, are the reason why BELLS are another Easter symbol: their ringing is a joyful and happy sound.

HOW LONG DOES EASTER LAST?

Easter itself only last one day (Domenica di Pentecoste, or Pentecost Sunday), but we Italians also celebrate the following day: Easter Monday here is called “Lunedì dell’Angelo” (Monday of the Angel) or “Pasquetta“. The latter comes from a diminutive of Easter, meaning that there simply is the suffix -etta (singular, feminine of -etto) added to “Pasqua”. This results in “Pasquetta” meaning “little Easter”.
The other term, “Lunedì dell’Angelo“, comes from a biblical episode: the Monday after the death of Jesus, some women went to his tomb but they found it empty. So, an Angel approached them and announced that Jesus had risen. Italians usually spend this day off outdoors, either having a barbecue in their backyards or having a picnic at the park; or even making a day trip in some city nearby.

Now that we have talked about the origins and the symbols of Easter, it will be easier for you to understand all the Italian expressions related to this holiday…

EXPRESSIONS

  • Dare / Augurare la mala Pasqua (lit. giving/wishing someone a bad Easter): Expression that means “ruining someone’s moment of happiness” by causing them pain or bearing bad news.

Stavamo celebrando la promozione di Andrea quando il capo è venuto e ci ha dato la mala Pasqua: aveva deciso di licenziare la metà dei dipendenti! (We were celebrating Andrea’s promotion when our boss came and ruined our happy moment: he had decided he wanted to fire half of the employees!)

This expression could also be used to wish somebody misfortune and bad luck, for instance: “A te la mala Pasqua!” or “Ti auguro la mala Pasqua!”- these expressions could be addressed at someone who angered or exasperated us.

  • Venire come la Pasqua in domenica (lit. happening like Easter on a Sunday): It is used to talk about something that happens at the right time. Easter, as we have already established, falls on a Sunday every year without exception.

Neanche a farlo apposta, l’appuntamento con Giulia viene proprio come la Pasqua in domenica. Finalmente potrai dirle quello che provi per lei! (By sheer coincidence, your date with Giulia comes at the right time. You can finally tell her how you feel about her!)

  • Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi (lit. Christmas with your folks, Easter with whoever you like): Tradition has it that you spend Christmas with your family but rules are more flexible when it comes to Easter, because you can freely choose who you want to spend it with – family, friends or even acquaintances.
  • Essere felice come una Pasqua (lit. being as happy as Easter): Easter is the holiday of happiness and serenity so this expression means being extremely happy, jubilant, display great joy. It’s the Italian version of many different expressions, such as the American “happy as a clam” and the British “pleased as punch“.

Ho superato il concorso, sono felice come una Pasqua! (I passed the competitive exam, I’m happy as a clam!)

  • Portare la propria croce (lit. bearing one’s own cross): The translation of this proverb is clear enough for many people, but just in case you didn’t know, this is a quotation from the Bible. In fact, not only did Jesus bear his own cross, but he also encouraged his disciples to the same. This saying clearly refers to the ability of withstand and accept painful moments in one’s life, just like Jesus physically brought his cross to the place where he would be crucified, accepting all the suffering that led to his death.

Ammiro le persone che, pur avendo conosciuto il dolore, portano la propria croce senza lamentarsene, e anzi essendo grate alla vita. (I admire those who have known pain and still bear their own cross without complaining about it, and that are even grateful for their lives.)

  • Pasqua cade alta/bassa (lit. Easter fall high/low): As we said earlier, Easter can fall anywhere between the end of March and the end of April – if it falls in the first period (between 22 March and 2 April), so quite early, it’s “low” (early); but if it falls later on (between 14 April and 25 April), it’s considered “high” (late).
  • Essere come San Tommaso (lit. being like Saint Thomas): Unsurpisingly, this is another expression that comes from the Bible. If you are familiar with it, you already know who Saint Thomas is – one of Jesus’ apostles, the one who did not believe in his resurrection until he saw him with his own eyes. Knowing this, the meaning of this saying is very straightforward: it refers to someone who doesn’t believe in something util they can see with their own eyes the proofs that it has actually happened. In English, there’s a phrase to describe this kind of person – “doubting Thomas”.

Sara vuole parlarmi? Voglio vedere i messaggi in cui te lo dice. Sono come San Tommaso: se non vedo, non credo! (Sara wants to talk to me? I want to see the messages where she says so. I’m like Saint Thomas: If I don’t see, I don’t believe!)

  • Lungo come una Quaresima (lit. long as Lent) : Lent is the 40-days-long penitence we have mentioned earlier, but there’s something I didn’t tell you because during this period of time, you’re supposed to fast and not eat any sort of meat. Forty days of not eating much or enough must feel like an eternity, right? It must, because this is exactly the reason why this expression is used in reference to something that is so long, it can be long-winded, boring and insistent.

L’attesa dal dentista è stata lunga come una Quaresima. (Waiting at the dentist felt as long as Lent.)

Speaking of dentist…if you have missed our article on all the words and expressions to know when you go to a dentist’s office in Italy, go read it! I assure you it’s filled with extremely useful notions.

This was everything you need to know about Easter in Italy and the expressions that have derived from it. Let me know in the comments if you celebrate Easter in your countries and if so, what are the typical desserts and the most common traditions!

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