Before coming to Firenze, I was told that no matter where I intended to travel, I must stay in my host city for Easter. I must. I asked why, and in response, I was shown a photo of an exploding cart. “An exploding cart?” I thought. How is this an Easter celebration? What happened to traditional Mass and Easter dinner with lamb? Now, as I experience, Florence, just two days before Easter, I have had the chance to see just how popular it is for families, schools, and locals to visit and celebrate Christ in this city, as well as to come and enjoy the exploding cart.
The Scoppio del Carro, otherwise known as the “Explosion of the Cart,” dates back nearly 400 years. The “cart” is in fact a wagon that was built in 1622 that is pulled by oxen through the Piazza della Republica until it stops between the Duomo cathedral and the Baptistery. At around 10:00 a.m., a priest rubs three flints together until they spark, which in turn is used to light the Easter candle. The candle is then used to light coals that are inside the cart, which then begins its journey to reach Santa Maria del Fiore, otherwise known as the Duomo cathedral, and the baptistery. There, the archbishop of Florence greets the cart, as well as the city officials, clerical representatives, and figures dressed in historical costume. At 11:00 a.m., as the “Gloria” is sung inside the cathedral, the archbishop, who is standing on an altar, uses the fire to light a rocket that is shaped like a dove, called Colombina. This symbolizes the Holy Spirit. The dove is set along a wire and propelled forward, exiting the church and colliding with the cart, thereby setting of an incredible fireworks display—the “Explosion of the Cart.”
In addition to this celebration, most Florentines will also attend Mass, often the midnight Mass on the evening of Easter. The Mass lasts about two hours as the priest reads from both the Old Testament and the New Testament. The priest will also baptize infants during the Mass. However, in the two months leading up to Easter, the priest travels to each congregation member’s home for benediction. Unless an individual has requested to not be visited, the priest will in fact perform a benediction in each home. Florentines who do not attend midnight Mass will often attend a late morning Mass, just in time for a late Easter lunch with family.
Family time and food are integral components of Easter celebrations. Most families will serve lamb, artichokes, and asparagus with eggs. A traditional side dish, called an Easter cake, is made of spinach and ricotta cheese. The first course, known as a primo, always consists of a pasta, typically ravioli with mushrooms and vegetables. The second course, known as a secondo, always is the lamb. To top of the meal, children go for a chocolate egg hunt around the house, which are often painted by them at school beforehand.
I am incredibly excited to witness the “Explosion of the Cart” this coming Sunday along with my peers and the faculty of the Villa, as well as to experience Easter Florentine style.
Until next time, buona Pasqua e arrivederci! (Happy Easter and goodbye!)