Customs and Traditions

Legend of the Easter Dove
(Leggenda della colomba di Pasqua)

Marco walked carefully along the stone path, his sandals making a flapping sound as he hurried along.  He carried a basket of bread dough, made just a few hours earlier by his mother, Costanza.  After it had risen, she had asked him to take it to the panificio (bakery) in the center of town to be baked.  It was to be the Easter bread for their table.

Gaetano, the roly-poly bread baker, welcomed Marco with a loud buon giorno, and Marco returned the greeting.

“Well, my lad,” said Gaetano, brushing the flour from his hands, “I see that your mamma has been up early getting the dough made.”

“Si, signore,” laughed Marco, “mia mamma e’ sempre in gamba (my mother is salways on the ball).”

Gaetano took the basket from Marco and with a small knife carved the letter C for Costanza on the top of the dough to make sure that Marco got the right loaf when it came from the oven.  Many people in the village brought their dough to Gaetano for communal baking since fuel was so expensive they could not afford their own.  Gaetano put the dough onto a long wooden shovel, then pushed it off the shovel into the hot oven.

“How long will it take to bake, signore?” asked Marco.

“Come back before mezzogiorno, and it will be ready,” Gaetano assured him.

Marco decided to get a lemonade at one of the shops and amuse himself while he waited.  The whole town looked very festive, because it was just a few days before the celebration of Easter.  Beautiful lilies in pots lined the doorways of the houses and the smell of Easter pies made with ricotta cheese wafted through the streets.  Marco stopped by a shop displaying birdcages with canaries, pigeons, and doves.  One bird in particular, a snowy white dove, caught his attention.  Marco put his fingers near the cage to pet it.

“You interested in that bird, little boy?” inquired the shopkeeper. “It’s only a few lire and would make a nice pet.”

Marco had no money, but he knew that he wanted that dove.   “No, signore, I don’t have enough money,” he answered with sadness in his voice, and walked out the door.  The church bells were chiming and Marco realized that it was noontime; the bread would be ready.  As he entered the panificio, Gaetano was taking hot loaves from the oven.

“Tell your mamma this is her most beautiful loaf, such a high loaf, and look at the golden crust.  It is a loaf more precious than gold,” he said, with excitement in his voice. Marco paid him for baking the bread, put it, wrapped in brown paper, in his basket, and said good-bye.  The smell of the bread comforted him, and as he made his way home, an idea occurred to him.  He turned around and headed for the bird shop.

“Signore,” he said, “will you take this loaf of bread in exchange for this dove?”  The shopkeeper looked stunned.

“A loaf of bread for a bird?”

“Oh, yes, signore, it is a loaf more precious than gold.  Look at how high the loaf is, the color of its crust; it is worthy to be eaten at only the finest of feasts.”

The shopkeeper wrinkled his brow and put his hand to his chin.  Hmmm, he thought.  The boy is right. I do need something special for my Easter table and it is the most beautiful loaf that I have ever seen.. “Done,” he said , “the bird for the bread.”

Marco was thrilled.  He handed the loaf to the shopkeeper, who handed him the dove.  Marco cradled the dove in his arms and started home.  So happy was he that he almost did not realize what he had just done.  How will I explain this empty basket to mamma?  He thought.  She will have to make more dough.  She will be angry.  I’ll say that robbers stole the bread, or that Gaetano burned it in the oven, or…as ideas raced into his head, he heard a small voice say, “You will tell her the truth.” It was the dove, talking to him.  Marco could not believe his ears.

“You,” he exclaimed, “you can talk?”

“Only when I know that someone is not at peace,” said the dove in a soothing voice, and then it was silent.

Marco knew the dove was right.  He held the bird even closer to him, and when he reached home he found his mother sitting at the table, busily cleaning dandelion greens.  She did not look up from her basket as she asked to see the bread.  Marco, his hands trembling, placed the dove on the table.

“What is this?” came her started question. “Where is my bread for the Easter table?”

“Mamma,” he cried, “I gave your bread away because I wanted this beautiful dove.  I know that I deserve to be punished.”

His mother reached out her arms and pulled Marco toward her.  With her apron, she wiped the tears streaming down his face, and in a soft voice said, “You were wrong not to ask me first about the bird, but you told me the truth, and that is what matters.  Come, Marco, we will make more dough.” Together they mixed the water, yeast, and flour until they had a mound of soft dough.  Marco’s mother cut the dough in half and gave him a piece to form into his own loaf.  Marco looked over at the dove, cooing softly nearby, and instead of making a loaf, he shaped his dough into a dove; his mother smiled and made hers the same.

Once more, Marco took the breads to the bakery.  This time Gaetano did not need to put a C or M on the breads because they were the only ones shaped like doves.  All the townspeople who had come to the panificio to pick up their loaves were curious about Marco’s bread, and so they waited until the golden-brown doves came out of the oven.

“How beautiful!” everyone shouted, clapping their hands, and how clever.  “We want to make a colomba too,” they all said.  Marco was so happy that people liked his bread.  He told them how to shape the dough and they hurried off to create their own. 

That Easter was the best one Marco ever had.  The table was full of good things to eat, roast lamb and potatoes, tender artichokes, Easter pie, and Marco’s bread.  His mother said that it was the most beautiful bread she had ever seen, and every Easter from that time on, Marco, his mother, and all the townspeople always made their bread in the shape of a dove.


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Created: Sunday, July 15, 2007; Last updated: Sunday, January 20, 2013
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