Since Rome, or more precisely the Vatican, is home to the Catholic Church, every year the city celebrates Easter and the preceding week in a grand style. Most of the Pope-centric traditions unfold in St. Peter’s Square. Feasts and picnics with family and friends follow on Easter Day and Pasquetta (or Little Easter. Remember: the Monday after Easter is a holiday in Italy). Even if you’re a visitor to Rome, it’s easy to get in on the Easter festivities the Roman way!
Now that Pope Francis is comfortably ensconced as head of the Catholic Church, the Vatican’s elaborate Easter preparations can get underway. It has been and will continue to be a busy time in St. Peter’s Square. Palm Sunday kicks off Settimana Santa (or Holy Week). On Sunday morning in Rome, the piazza transforms into a sea of faithful waving olive branches as symbols of peace. And if you’re lucky, you might catch a close up of the new Pope as he and his procession wind through the escatic crowd. Actually, the week around Easter offers the most and best opportunities for Pope spotting.
The rest of the major Easter celebrations in Rome cluster at the end of Settimana Santa (or Holy Week). In the evening of Holy Thursday in St. Peter’s Basilica, the Last Supper is reenacted down to the the Pope washing the feet of twelve priests. On the night of Good Friday the Via Crucis (or Way of the Cross) is celebrated at the Colosseum. If the Pope is in good health, he carries the flaming cross to each of the fourteen stations to read a meditation to the throngs of people. The background of pagan ruins and the overlay of gathered faithful make the Way of the Cross a spectacular and moving sight for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
The big Easter event on Saturday night is the vigil in St. Peter’s Basilica. It begins in the evening and goes on until the last one falls asleep—just kidding!—until the midnight bells on Easter morning ring. More bells will certainly wake you up early in the morning for the week’s most anticipated mass in St. Peter’s Square. The ten o’clock mass is followed at noon by the “Urbi et Orbi” blessing, given from the basilica’s porch. These two are the biggest events of Rome’s Easter season so expect crowds all through the morning.
What to eat for Easter in Rome
But Easter isn’t only about church services. If the weather is good—as it usually is in Rome in spring—many Italians leave the city for a delicious lunch outdoors. As the Italian saying goes: Natale con i tuoi, pasqua con chi vuoi, which means Christmas with your family, Easter with whomever you want. And if you want to stay in Rome to celebrate Easter, then Pasquetta is the best day for a picnic. All around Rome’s countryside the barbecues are lit. Friends gather for a picnic lunch either at a favorite park or at a friend’s backyard.
Day trips from Rome during Easter
As a visitor, it’s still easy to get out of town for a real Roman Pasquetta. Two good choices are Bracciano Lake or Frascati in the Castelli. (The train north to Bracciano leaves every half hour from Ostiense Station. Trains south to Frascati part as frequently from Termini.) Or if you choose to spend the day in Rome, there are plenty of parks to picnic in, like the quaint Parco del Celio near the Colosseum, the gigantic Villa Pamphili, or the classy Villa Borghese behind Piazza del Popolo. If you’re lucky, it’ll be a balmy spring day and the wildflowers will be blooming a carpet. Buona Pasqua! Happy Easter!