Brief History of the Colomba

Feb 23rd 2016

While you probably won't see the Easter bunny if you're in Italy for Easter, you will find some interesting Italian Easter celebrations. Like all holidays in Italy, Easter, Pasqua in Italian, has its share of rituals and traditions.

Food plays a big part in the celebrations. Traditional Easter foods include lamb or goat, artichokes, and special Easter breads that vary from region to region. Colomba Pasquale, is often given as gift to friends and relatives.

Colomba is an Italian sweet bread, somewhat similar to the Panettone, and it is baked only for the Easter. Shaped like a dove, the bread is glazed and covered with crystallized sugar and unpeeled almonds. Hence the name, Colomba (meaning dove) and Pasquale (meaning Easter).

There are some stories about the origin of this bread. According to,"Colomba's history can be traced to Milan and the victory of Legnano, in 1176, when cities of the Lombard League defeated Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, who was intent on capturing Italy for the Holy Roman Empire. It is said that two doves, symbolizing the Holy Ghost, appeared on the altar of the chariot carrying the battle standards and that the colomba commemorates that event and victory - an example of the role of food in history and food as history."

But the real origin of this sweet is more recent. In the 30’s Dino Villani, working for Motta, an industry from Milano also famous for its ChritmasPanettoni, devised a sweet similar toPanettoneto be produced with the same machine and to be sold it during the Easter.
Since then,Colombaappared on the table of every Italian.

While Easter is a joyous celebration, solemn religious processions are held in many towns on the Friday (venerdì santo) before Easter and sometimes on Easter Sunday. Many churches have special statues of the Virgin and Jesus that play a big part in the processions. The statues may be paraded through the city or displayed in the main square. Parade participants are often dressed in traditional costumes. Olive branches are often used instead of or along with palm fronds in the processions and to decorate churches. Enna, in Sicily, has a large procession on Good Friday, with more than 2,000 friars dressed in ancient costumes walking through the streets of the city. Their Good Friday procession is 24 hours long. What's believed to be the oldest Good Friday procession in Italy is in Chieti, during which Selecchy's Miserere is played by 100 violins.

In Florence, Easter is celebrated with the Scoppio del Carro, explosion of the cart. A huge, decorated wagon is dragged through Florence by white oxen until it reaches Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence's historic center. Following mass, the Archbishop sends a dove-shaped rocket into the cart, igniting the fireworks held in the cart. This spectacular display is followed by a parade in medieval costumes.

The Monday following Easter, la Pasquetta is also a traditional holiday throughout Italy and a time to gather with friends and have fun. A lot of families go out in the country for a pic-nic, some cities hold dances, free concerts, or unusual games often involving eggs.

In the Umbrian hill town of Panicale, there is a very weird tradition, called Ruzzolone. Ruzzolone is played by rolling huge wheels of cheese, weighing about 4 kilos, around the village walls. The object is to get your cheese around the course using the fewest number of strokes. Following the cheese contest, there is a band in the piazza and of course, wine.

Have you already decided what to do on Easter?

What are your family’s traditions or habits on this day?