Every year on the first Monday of Easter (Pasquetta – “little Easter”) the small Umbrian village of Panicale, Italy celebrates the resurrection with one of the strangest Easter traditions that we’ve ever heard of. Part bowling and part golf, Ruzzolone is the competition where villages roll a wheel of cheese around the streets and walls of the city to see who can complete the course in fewest throws. And you thought bunnies and chocolate eggs were a little bit strange?
The game has ancient origins, possibly back to the Roman Empire, and was a popular game for shepherds to play. It remained a constant favorite of Italians through the Middle Ages and even up until the 18th century when other sports passed it in popularity. Panicale is among only a few communities still keeping the activity alive.
To toss the cheese, participants wrap a strap around their wrist and then, lengthwise around the wheel so that they can bowl it down the road. Observers chase on alongside the tumbling cheese, ready to mark its resting place with a chalk-mark so that the next bowler can throw the wheel again. At the end of the competition the winner claims top prize… the cheese used in the bowling (I don’t think this passes the 5-second rule). The town celebrates in the piazza with live music, wine, cheese (of course) and hard boiled eggs served complimentary from the Ruzzolone committee.
While it’s certainly one of the more bizarre Easter traditions we’ve encountered, perhaps the “what” isn’t the important part of this town’s cheese rolling, but rather the “why.” Christ is risen and we keep the feast! Whether you celebrate with a ham dinner on Sunday, binge on ice cream (or whatever food you may have given up), attend the Vigil Mass with your family because it’s tradition; remembering that we do these things to give thanks for the sacrificial gift of the cross and the redemptive love of the resurrection is what must be at the heart of all our Easter traditions. He is risen!