The deep influence of tradition and ritual in Italian culture is reflected in celebrations such as Easter. Known as La Pasqua, Easter celebration in Italy is marked by many rites observed throughout the country that have their roots in ancient pagan rituals. The Holy Week celebrations across Italy reflect regional differences, and are remnants of religion, peasant lore and pagan influences. On Palm Sunday, the churches are bedecked with baskets of palms and olive branches and once they have been blessed by the priest they are given out to the congregations. Thousands of people throng the St. Peters Square on Palm Sunday to receive the palms blessed by the Pope after Mass has ended. On Giovedi Santo or Holy Friday, many churches re-enact the ceremony of the washing of the feet at the altar.
Among the myriad of Easter traditions in Italy, Scoppio del Carro, meaning explosion of the cart, is the most spectacular one. For over 300 years the Easter celebration in Florence has included this ritual, during which an elaborate wagon, a structure built in 1679 and standing two to three stories high, is dragged through Florence behind a fleet of white oxen decorated in garlands. Like in many other countries, in Italy the fasting of Lent is preceded by a carnival with colorful pageants, masquerades, dancing, music and all kinds of merrymaking. The Carnevale begins in January and lasts until Ash Wednesday. The activities and merriment of Carnevale precede the somber overtones of the Lenten season.
The Easter dinner is usually a sumptuous feast arranged with special delicacies. The most important dish is Agnellino, roasted baby lamb. Eggs feature prominently in the day's dishes, in both soups such as Brodetto Pasquale, a broth-based Easter soup thickened with eggs, and various kinds of breads, both sweet and savory. Pannetone and Colomba (dove shaped) breads are also given as gifts. Hollow chocolate eggs that usually contain something surprising inside are also presented to near and dear ones. Gifts exchange in various other forms is also popular in Italy.