Easter in Palermo
In Palermo the “Holy Week” is a time of the year when various religious rituals are celebrated and reach the peak on Easter Sunday. A very salient holiday also celebrated at the table mostly because after the Lenten season of theoretical “food abstinence” it is possible to give vent to gastronomic passion, vital for the people of Palermo.
Here an overview of the major events of these days, interesting for those in Sicily for the holiday willing to plunge into the real spirit of the city. A mix of sacred and profane, a combined tourism where culture and folklore takes you to visit monuments and beautiful baroque churches but also unforgettable culinary experiences.
Beginning with Palm Sunday when the city becomes overwhelmed by street vendors selling gold and silver-painted olive twigs as well as original braided palm leaves.
On Holy Thurday, Holy Sepulchres are set up in every church. These consiste in miniature gardens of wheat and legume sprouts planted on ceramic plates by devoted women and fancily decorated with ribbons. During the evening these Sepulcres are visited by hundreds of people in order to decide which is the most beautiful, just as if it were a contest. A notice to unaware tourists is to visit an odd number of them because superstition imposes its rules even in this case!
On Good Friday processions worthy of theater colossals take place. One of the most suggestive moments takes place during the Easter Eve Mass when, after a long ritual the congregation assists “a calata ra tila” (the canvas descending) on the altar representing the fases of Christ’s Passion up to Christ Resurrected. The ceremony culminates with loud prolonged bell chimes.
Easter Sunday is mostly celebrated with the family and at the table with a series of culinary rituals to which people of Palermo rarely give up. A dish that will never be missing is “u caprettu aggrassatu chi patati” (glazed goat meat with potatoes). Many (especially gentle souls) do not appreciate the aromas exhaling from kitchens during the cooking of this typical Easter-time tradition. Another impressing custom that may upset tourists not used to it, is the sight of young goat corpses hanging on big stainless steel hooks in front of butcher shops around the city. A “sacrifice” thah nobody can avoid, tradition-wise.
So, after having eaten “anelletti cu capuliato” (ring-shaped pasta with ground beef sauce), “capretto e patate aggrassate” (glazed goat and potatoes), a whole flock of marzapan sheep, here you see the “Queen of the Easter table” the “cake par excellence”, the “triump of sweetness”, the baroque monument of palermo’s best pastry shops, a beautiful and scenic sweet, dense of history: the “Cassata Siciliana”. Without it, it wouldn’t be Easter! It can be found in all the best pastry shops and a must for every tourist visiting Sicily for a deep knowledge of the city.
After this sumptuous meal all that remains is to have a nice boiling-hot cup of “acqua qu l’addauro” (laurel leaf infusion) to help digestion and to get ready for the “Pasquetta” (little Easter) that takes place the day after with picnics of course not without “l’arrustuta” (Sicilan barbeque). It seems as though in Sicily you never stop eating!
written by Evelin Costa translated by Maria Lina Bommarito