To find Easter in New York you need patience and determination. While Christmas is over saturated with a ridiculous amount of anticipation and consumerist obsession, Easter discretely tip toes its way into the city. This is because at Easter, apart from the chocolate bunnies and eggs, there is not much to sell. Also, there is no need to show off light clothing at Easter time, since spring in New York is unpredictable, and you cannot be sure if there are going to be sub-zero temperatures and snowstorms.
But if you look hard, you will not be disappointed. There is something for everyone: from the most spiritual experiences, to the most culturally elevated and original, to those that delight the senses.
Perhaps the most unique spiritual experience is the Via Crucis on the Brooklyn Bridge. This year (they will celebrate their) will be its twenty-second anniversary. The procession, organized by CL (Communion and Liberation), parts from the Cathedral of St. James in Brooklyn and proceeds to the pedestrian walkway of the bridge. You walk as the Brooklyn Bridge traffic passes below, and you meditate on the passion of Christ while admiring the Manhattan skyline. The procession makes a stop at Ground Zero, where the twin towers fell, and ends at the church of St Peter, a church that has defied the centuries, the September 11th attacks, and the massive skyscrapers in the financial heart of the city.
Regardless of whether or not you are religious, I recommend you attend one of the ceremonies during Holy Week in one of the many churches in this Atheist city. In the churches of Harlem, you can hear some of the most moving spiritual gospel choirs. The preachers are real stars, and even if your English is not perfect, you will be fascinated by their overwhelming style and passion. Find out before online though (Be advised) some of the most famous churches in Harlem (like the Abyssinian Baptist Church) do not allow tourists during major holidays. Also, remember to dress well, or run the risk of not being admitted or feeling totally inadequate for the occasion.
If you prefer something closer to our tradition, you can go to one of the Catholic churches, known for their quality of sacred music and liturgy, like the university parish of St. Joseph’s in Greenwich Village, which skillfully combines Gregorian chant, polyphony and contemporary music. The famous Ignatius of Loyola (the parish of Kennedy and Cuomo) also boasts an amazing organ and has one of the best choirs in the city. But even in some Episcopal churches (the American version of Anglicans) there is an intact, almost amplified Roman liturgy, like the church of St. Mary the Virgin, near Time Square, affectionately nicknamed St. Mary the Smokey, for the abundant amount of incense burned during the ceremonies.
Another Anglican church is the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, which has an annual homage to our national poet. In Fact, on the night before Good Friday, poets, actors, scholars and other special guests find themselves in the transept of this enormous church; reading passages of Dante’s Inferno in the dimly lit Gothic and Romanesque columns that once a year transform into a dark forest.
However, the rituals on Easter are also secular and, for we Italians, they mainly center around food. My inevitable secular pilgrimage is to the Parisi bakery, in what remains of Little Italy. Mr. Parisi was the baker of Frank Sinatra, who would send bread to him on a plane to Los Angeles three times a week. Once a year, just for Easter, the heirs of Mr. Parisi make a delicate sweet bread that is called Easter bread: a pastry that is delicious and simple, reminiscent of the bussolano of the legendary baker, Renzo Grossi, from Bozzolo. The Bozzolo recipe was lost in Italy (Although my friend Giovanna is constantly trying to reconstruct it), but I feel that I have somehow found it here in New York. For me, that sweet bread tastes like home and has the flavor of the holiday.
Happy Easter Everyone!
Translation from Italian by Louis Vaccara