Lent fasting in Italy : the rules explained.

You may want to know something about Lent fasting if you’re in Italy in the weeks before Easter.

We look at the rules, and the everyday Italian recipes you’ll still be able to eat.

Lent fasting fish
Fish - the centre of Italian Lent fasts.

Lent fasting - why?

Italy is still a very Catholic country - it takes its religion very seriously.  Although the younger Italian generations are far more secularised than their parents, Roman Catholicism is still a strong family and community influence. 

Led by the example of the Pope, Catholics are expected to fast for the full forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.

The reason? As a penance for the excesses of the previous year and the weeks of partying during Carnevale; to concentrate the mind on the life and death of Jesus; to reflect self-sacrifice as shown by Jesus in his forty days’ fasting before the crucifixion; to abstain from luxury to show solidarity with the poor of the world.

Lent fasting fish
Peppers! Vegetables as well as fish
take the place of meat at Lent in Italy.

Are the rules of Lent observed strictly?

Not as strictly as in previous years. Although the Catholic Church still encourages self-denial during Lent it is no longer a strict requirement but a matter of personal principle.

In any event, this has never been a fast in terms of starving the body or only eating at certain times, but rather of avoiding foods which are seen as luxuries. In many countries, including Italy, this means sweets and chocolate.

But the food that Italian people love above all is - meat.

Lent fasting : fish, fish and more fish!

Lent fasting fish
A Venetian market stall at Lent.

So from Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday many Italian Catholics don’t eat meat.

Having said that, this custom can vary from region to region : some eat no meat at all during Lent, some don’t eat meat on a Friday.

And the elderly, the young, people who are ill and pregnant women are exempt from any kind of fasting.

Italy is not a great country for vegetarians. Meat is a staple of the Italian diet - second only to pasta. So its loss is felt keenly as a real penance which is helped only by the introduction into the Lenten diet of the other favourite food - fish. 

If you’re looking for everyday Italian recipes containing fish, have a look at our links at the end of this page.

What effect will this have on tourists?

If you’re staying in a large tourist area like Rome then none, unless you choose to abide by the Lenten fast. You will still be able to get meat on menus.

Lent fasting fish
Shopping for fish at Lent in Le Marche.

If you’re in a less touristy area you may find that fish meals are more prominent than usual, but meat will still be there.

And if you’re staying with an Italian family it will really depend on what their local customs are. You may eat fish only on a Friday or you may find it on the menu more often.

Lent fasting : things to do (rather than not to do).

There is a more modern take on fasting for Lent which turns it on its head and says the best way to serve others during the four weeks is to do something positive.

This often takes the form of some kind of voluntary work and in Rome, where there is a very specific and completely unique Lent calendar, many Italian Catholics attend Mass far more frequently than usual - sometimes every day.

How does this affect you? If you have Italian roots and want to keep those traditions alive, make up your mind to do something positive for someone each day - even if it’s just smiling when you don’t feel like it!

And finally - Lent fasting and modern technology.

A more up to date way of looking at Lent fasting in Italy is giving up some form of modern gadgets. Television is the obvious one but more recently with talk of global warming the congregations of some Italian churches decided to spend Lent reducing their carbon emissions.

Lent fasting fish
Fish - the centre of Italian Lent fasts.

In 2009 the Pope and his Archbishops in Italy caused quite a stir when they advised that young people in particular should consider giving up technology for Lent - a kind of high-tech fast.

No Twitter, they advised, no Facebook, no iPods and - heaven preserve us - no texting!

Did anyone take any notice? No-one really knows. But in a country where Italian teenagers send an average of 47 text messages per day, it seems highly unlikely!

If you like fish, you’ll love this!

It’s one of our favourite blogs about life in a chaotic Italian - American family. It’s not all about fish, there are plenty of other recipes too. Click on the picture to take you to the blog which will open in a separate page.

Seven fishes blog link

After the fasting for Lent comes the feasting of Easter.  Lamb, chicken, steak and Easter egg tradition - yum!

Everyday Italian recipes for Lent.

For a filling meal that won’t break your Lent fast, have a look at our delicious Italian fish soup.

And follow it with a yummy ‘Gamberoni aglio e limone’ - our gorgeous Italian seafood recipe.