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Many children wake up on Easter Sunday and find eggs scattered about their rooms. They look in the nests they have placed in their yards or gardens and find Easter eggs in them. The eggs are said to have been bought from Rome where the bell ringing had gone to see the Pope and when the bells returned they bought with them the eggs.
In Italy olive branches are used on Palm Sunday instead of palm branches. Italians claim to have been said to have been the first to invent chocolate Easter eggs.
In Italy pretzels were originally an Easter food. The twisted shape is supposed to represent arms crossed in prayer.
Lent is preceded by a carnival with colorful pageants, masquerades, dancing, music and all kinds of merrymaking. The Carnviale begins in January and lasts until Ash Wednesday, but the ceremonies of the last three days are the gayest, especially those of Martedi Grasso or Shrove Tuesday, when pancakes are eaten.
An important part of the carnival is the wearing of masks. People wear all types of masks such as small black masks, which represent spirits and witches from the demon world.
One of the most exciting features of the festival is the death of the carnival. For example in Venice the straw body of "King Carnival" is filled with firecrackers and burned at midnight in the Piazza San Marco. The carnival figure is usually represented as a fat man, this is a symbol of the eating and drinking that takes place during this period.
Quaresima or lent, on the other hand, is represented as a lean old woman. Children are often been given the figure of an old woman with seven legs, representing the seven weeks of Lent, and at Mezza Quaresima they cut the figure in two, throwing half away and keeping the other half until the end of Lent.
During Lent, women often used to grow wheat in a dark place, so that the lack of sunlight would make it a white color. This is then used to decorate the altar of the local church during the days leading up to Easter. The white wheat represented Christ's tomb.
Domenica delle Palme or Palm Sunday, people take palm and olive branches to church to be blessed. When everyone is in the church, the doors are closed to represent the gates of Jerusalem. The priests knock three times, and the gates are then flung open in welcome, and they enter amid joyous music and the waving of palms, this is done to commemorate Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The palms are often spread over fields for good luck or patching up quarrels as an expression of peace.
Giovedi Santo or Holy Friday, many churches re-enact the ceremony of the washing of the feet at the altar. They chose 12 poor men from the parish representing the Twelve Disciples, and the priest, acting as Christ, bathes their feet.
Easter or La Pasqua is a joyous day. After morning mass people return home for the Easter dinner. The most important dish is agnellino, roasted baby lamb. The table is decorated with colored eggs which have been blessed by the priest.
In Italy lamb is eaten with a special salad made with hard-boiled eggs.
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