Easter on the island of Gozo is a true joy. It does not only coincide with the beautiful season of Spring but it is a time to experience the culture of an island whose roots are deeply embedded in faith and which have evolved into a mosaic of elaborate traditions and rituals over the centuries. Easter on the island of Gozo is a true joy especially if you’re going to stay at a farmhouse.
The period before the feast of Easter, known as Lent, is associated with penance. For believers, it is a 40-day journey or preparation for the grand feast of Resurrection on Easter Sunday. In the Catholic tradition, Lent is a period of personal sacrifices, fasting and staying away from meat dishes. In times gone by, meat was considered a luxury and thus withholding meat dishes was part of the solemn rituals believers followed. To this day, you will come across several dishes on the island of Gozo which are associated with the season of Lent. Maybe one of the favourite dishes is the traditional stuffed artichokes. The first artichokes start becoming available at the vegetable market right on the onset of Lent and they are usually stuffed with a tasty mix of parsely, garlic, olives, capers and breadcrumbs. It makes a great vegetarian dish!
Other dishes that are typical of the season, include the Kusksu, a kind of green bean soup that includes tiny bead pasta and fresh Gozitan cheeselets; qassatat, a pasty pocket stuffed with cheese and spinach and tuna pies. On the sweet side, one can enjoy the Kwareżimal, the typical Lenten sweet that even its own name evolved from the Latin word quaresima meaning Lent. You’ll also come across sweet and savoury bread rings known locally as the Apostles’ Ring. And maybe you can ask for carob sweets produced from carob syrup that is known across the Mediterranean region for its healthy properties. These sweets are available at local gourmet stores all year round, but during Lent, they are sold at some stalls near churches or places where exhibitions are being held. Easter cannot be celebrated in Gozo without the traditional Figolla, a sweet pastry that envelopes a layer of yet sweeter almond filling. Figolli are baked in different shapes and sizes. Some of the traditional favourites are the ones in the shape of lambs, rabbits, mermaids, hearts and guitars! Figolli are usually decorated with chocolate or coloured icing and come with an Easter Egg affixed on top.
When it comes to the essence of the season, the death and resurrection of Christ is best experienced not only during the various liturgical ceremonies and church services but also via the various pageants, processions, plays and exhibitions that nearly every village in Gozo organises. From the deeply devotional procession of Our Lady of Sorrows, where many devotees follow the statue in the streets to the celebration of Palm Sunday and the Good Friday processions which include a string of rich statues representing different stations of the Cross, you’ll witness a facet of Gozo that is only visible during this time. Many people participate in these processions some dressed up as Biblical characters or Roman soldiers in elaborate costumes and some in hooded dresses trudging heavy chains or crosses as an act of penance are truly gripping to witness.
Għammar Hill, opposite the shrine of Our Lady of Ta’ Pinu in Għarb, is also closely associated with this time of the year. The steep uphill path is marked with marble statues of the Stations of the Cross and every year one can join the pilgrimage that makes its way up to the top at dusk carrying candles and torchlights. The event can even captivate the attention of non-believers as the scenery from top of the hill is very suggestive.
Easter Sunday is all about joy and this is visible everywhere in Gozo. After 40 days of Lent, it’s time for church bells to ring again. Apart from the numerous processions with the statue of the risen Christ, it is a great time to visit Villa Rundle Gardens in Victoria for the official Gozo Egg Hunt! The processions with the statue of the Risen Christ, most of which are held early in the morning are usually fascinating to witness as the bearers of the statue make the extra effort and sprint parts of the procession as part of the joyful expression. Easter lunch is an important date and most of the local restaurants will make an extra effort with the menu on that day, usually ending up the meal with traditional Figolla and chocolate Easter eggs.
Away from traditions, culture, food and musical concerts of the season, Easter in Gozo is a lot about ushering in the season of Spring with a hint of Summer! The weather is usually distinctly warmer as Easter approaches. As the countryside blooms, the island becomes a wonderful destination for travelers of all types. Hikers and ramblers can have days of wandering around the paths, cyclists can follow the roads to their hearts’ content and families can enjoy picnics at the beach under clear blue skies. Some will even take their first dip of the season.