Articles by: S. J.

  • The explosion of the cart in Florence on Easter Day
    Life & People

    Easter and Springtime Traditions in Italy

    This year Easter falls on April 21, while some traditions have been passed to the Untied States over the generations, such as chocolate eggs and Easter baskets, each region in Italy herolds traditions of their own. Since Italy is one of the most Catholic countries in the world, Easter is traditionally celebrated in a big way. Keep reading to find some of Italy's most exciting celebrations. 


    Spring into Lombardy’s capitol for a cultural experience. Milan is known for cherishing ages of art through its reputable museums and galleries. Start your Easter week off by visiting Leonardo DaVinci’s “The Last Supper” in Santa Maria delle Grazie. Make sure to get tickets in advance; each reveler is allotted just 15 minutes to marvel at the masterpiece before being escorted from the former Domenican Monastery. The tradition of the “Colomba di Pasqua” originated in Milan and became a fundamental tradition in households all around Italy.  It is a dove shaped cake with a similar consistancy to Panettone with flavors of almond and a sweet outter coating.


    Though Venice has a huge production of parades and festivals for Carnivale, Easter is much more contained. Most Venetians are busy at work on Friday and shops and markets remain open on Saturday. Throughout Sunday bells chime through the city from the ancient clock towers that make Venice so picturesque and celebrate the Resurrection of Christ. Delicious chocolate Easter eggs, a tradition that has internationally commercialized the Easter season, are unwrapped from their cellophane and devoured by the young ones. People give gifts, enjoy lamb with artichokes, and spend time with each other in springtime bliss.


    Trieste is filled with incredible Orthodox churches that create the perfect ambiance for an Easter weekend; the beautiful scenery of downtown Trieste is also a plus. Make sure to munch on Pinza Pasquale; a native dish to the area and a traditional Easter must try. The sweat treat is a mix between a cake and bread; its fluffy buttery texture is complimented by its simple sweet flavor and topped with the shape of a cross. The panoramic views and unforgettable shopping make for the perfect springtime seaside getaway.


    Florence brings Easter in with a bang, literally, and it’s called Lo Scoppio del Carro or The Explosion of the Cart. Every Easter Sunday a 30-foot antique cart pulled by white oxen is paraded from Porta al Prato to Piazza del Duomo where it towers in front of Santa Maria del Fiore.  A dove shaped enflamed torch is then launched towards the cart to ignite a fireworks show from the structure. The tradition is held in memorium of a Florentine knight, Pazzino di Ranieri de’ Pazzi who raised a Holy Cross insignia in Jerusalem in the midst of a Crusades battle. As you could imagine, this works up quite an appetite, in fact, do you smell something sweet? That would be fresh frittelle or fried dough pockets. Served steaming hot, these are soft on the inside and sprinkled with fresh sugarcane on the golden brown outside. You can find Italian venders selling them on the street and pay by weight, get full bag sweets for a great price.


    Rome is home of the largest Holy Week congregations, the Pope hosts Masses beginning from Palm Sunday through to Easter Sunday.  For Holy Thursday Pope Francis says Mass in St. Peter's Basilica followed by the Stations of the Cross in the Coliseum that evening. A candlelit Easter Vigil commences at 8:30pm in the Basilica. Mass is said outdoors on Easter Sunday and is witnessed by thousands of Christians in St. Peter's Square followed by the Papal Blessing "Urbi et Orbi," or "to the city and the world." Families and Friends gather together after for a supper of succulent roasted lamb, the flavors of lemon and rosemary resonate through the delicious Easter tradition for the perfect day.


    Springtime in southern Italy includes temperate weather and meadows of blossoming flowers backed by the crisp blue Bay of Naples. Naples natives embrace time with family and friends. Large picnics and outdoor gatherings commence where pigs are roasted with a salty flavoring and crisp texture on the outside, while being very juicy on the inside. Casatiello is a savory loaf that contains cheese and cured meats like salami and sausage. Finish the celebration with Pastiera, a delightful Easter pie swollen with sweet cream and topped with fresh berries and a healthy dosage of powdered sugar.


    The Abruzzese streets are filled with processions that last from the morning to late at night filled with music, chanting, praying, and lights. The religious floats are carried through the streets, to preserve the religious traditions some devout Catholics abstain from eating the entire day. Not to worry, the weekend is filled with decadent meats and sweet treats. Pupe and Cavallini di Pasqua are cocoa almond cookies that are cut into the shapes dolls (pupe) and cavallini (little horses) that young boys and girls look forward to all year.


    The island of Sicily flaunts its diversity of traditions around Easter time dating back to its rich cultural past. From Good Friday to Pasquetta, the Monday after Easter, the Sicilian streets are lined with religious processions comprised large floats carried by men and women through the cities, some take as many as 16 people to carry safely. Each float is made up of a religios scene: one chariot holds Jesus lying after the Crucifixion and a stutue of the grieving Madonna following him. They are joined by live bands, orchestras, and parades holding candles and ringing bells. A typical Easter finger food is fresh stuffed bread called Scacce, specific to the Ragusa area. Oozing with flavor, this steaming fresh bread is stuffed with tomato sauce packed with flavors of garlic, olive oil, basil, fresh meat, and lots of cheese that creates a sensation of fresh Easter delight.

    We hope you enjoyed your Easter trip around Italy! Full of life, flowers, fiends, family, doves, and eggs filled with treats.

  • Facts & Stories

    Mardi Gras or Martedì Grasso?

    Mardi Gras, Martedì Grasso, or “Fat Tuesday” is a pre-Lenten celebration that falls the day before the Catholic Holy Day of Obligation, Ash Wednesday. The celebration originated from the religious practice of foregoing meat during the season of Lent in reverence of Christ’s fast for forty days and nights before the Resurrection on Easter Day. The tradition of "Fat Tuesday" stands for consuming the rest of the meat and fatty foods to avoid wasting it, this has transformed into the famous celebrations we know and love today.

    In the United States, New Orleans hosts parades packed with marchers, revelers, and lavish floats based off traditions that can be traced back to the earliest French settlers in the southern United States. In Italy, Venice is transformed into the Carnival, a world famous festival complete with elaborate masks, theatric performances, and parades through Piazza San Marco


    In Venice the very first Mardi Gras, or Martedì Grasso, began in 1162 on the very same day the Serenissima Repubblica, modern day Veneto, conquered the Patriarch of Aquileia for independence. The celebration was an annual affair that was centered on the Catholic tradition of the final tolerance of meat before the 40 days of Lenten fasting. Thus, the title "Carnevale" was conceived; which translates in Latin to "Farewell Meat."

    Masks are widely popular in the Venetian tradition of Carnivale, the first mention dates back to 1268. Year after year partakers created intricate masks worn with long capes, causing ignorance of social order to fellow carousers. Back then and even today, the most popular mask was symbolic of what Plague doctors wore. It covers the upper face and is unique with a long beaklike apparatus whose origional design was to hold herbs that detered and filtered the pestilence, protecting those who wore it from breathing in the rampent illness.

    Patrons and visitors alike munch on soft fried dough rounds smothered in powdered sugar called frittelle,but the most anticipated affair is the parade in Piazza San Marco. Many continue to wear masks and capes to maintain the tradition, Carnivale last two weeks in its entirety and hosts about three million people. 

    New Orleans

    The French origin of the Mardi Gras celebration is traced back to a French Canadian explorer named Jean Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville who settled outside modern day New Orleans in the early 1700s the day before Ash Wednesday. The Catholic voyagers celebrated the feast day, and since then merrymaking grew larger and larger.

    In the 1800s the first procession took place complete with illuminated torches, carriages, and horseback riders. The popular tradition of throwing purple, gold, and green beads began when the Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich of Russia, visited for the famous carnival. The bead colors were selected in representation of the Romanoff family crest; purple signifies justice, gold for power, and green for faith. Following the arrival of the Duke, paper-mache floats and animal costumes processed down the streets for decrative and political reasons. In today’s Mardi Gras festivities, attendees of the New Orleans carnival dawn themselves in the same colored beads, costumes, and create massive floats in the day long extravaganza which 1.5 million attend annually.

    To go along with the aspect of giving up indulgences, the origination of “Fat Tuesday,” a French dessert called “King Cake” is consumed each year. It is made with brioche dough and sprinkled with purple, green, and gold sugar. Some party hosts hide a plastic baby inside, whoever is served with the slice with the figurine inside is responsible for hosting the celebration the following year. 

    In both New Orleans and Venice massive crowds gather to preserve an age old tradition, both complete costumes, processions, and delishious foods; however, the two world famous events are quite different. Which would you prefer?

  • Events

    Honoring Italian American Civil Service

    On October 6, 2016, from 10am to 3pm the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute invites guests to honor the publication of Forty Years of Italian American Civil Service Employment in New York City and New York State. Written by Vincenzo Milione, Itala Pelizzoli, and Carmine Pizzirusso, this study covers extensive research from 1980 to 2010 regarding the achievements of Italian American government employees in the New York City and State radius.

    The three authors will be present at the event to further explain the contents of their research. Furthermore, four featured individuals from the book will host a commentary panel from 10:45 – 12:00—Matilda Cuomo, a former NY State First lady; Daniel Nigro, a NYC Fire Commissioner; Diane Savino, a NY State Senator; and Thomas J. Abinati, a NY State Assemblyman, along with other speakers.

    Forty Years of Italian American Civil Service Employment in New York City and New York State is comprised of those who had careers in law enforcement, human resources, and education, along with occupations in fields such as management and volunteer work. Their tales center around their climb up the competitive latter throughout their varied fields of municipality.

    The research reveals fascinating patterns in the Italian American workforce, such as how the gender gap increasingly shrinks as more and more men and women work for the same positions with the same college degrees. It shows those who were granted tenure, occupational changes, and occupational advancement through attaining higher degrees and, of course, is an accolade to their hard work.

    This type of research is a tribute to various types of Italian American civil laborers. It is a dedication to generations from parents, grandparents, to great grandparents, who came from Italy to the United States seeking new opportunities. The values of hard work are harvested deep into what it means to be an Italian American. Therefore, the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute has offered to celebrate the publication of this book and generations of Italian Americans by hosting just a few of the incredible civil workers that have left their mark on a place many call home.