Easter in lockdown: Feasting in the time of coronavirus

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Lockdown has separated families and friends across Europe, with millions of us unable to break bread together as Lent ends and a weekend of feasting takes place.

Four families, in England, France, Spain and Italy, explain how they have adapted their Easter celebrations, and the comfort they are managing to take in the food associated with this time of year.

‘I thought it would brighten their day’

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Lois Swarbrick

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Lois Swarbrick (centre) says she misses her family “hugely”

Lois Swarbrick, 59, from Sidmouth, Devon, loves cooking and entertaining and would usually host her four children and four grandchildren at Easter.

As her family can’t join her and her husband this year, Lois decided to cook a roast for five neighbours and her parents.

“I did the ‘invitations’ last weekend and sent those out and everyone has accepted,” she says.

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Lois Swarbrick

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Easter at your house was an idea that went down well with the neighbours

Lois, whose father has been in isolation for five weeks as he has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, says celebrating Easter is part of an attempt to retain a semblance of normality.

“I get up, get dressed, put on my makeup and have a list of jobs to do,” she says.

“You have up days and down days because it’s so surreal. But we’ve all got to just get through this in the best way we can; we’ve got no choice – no-one has ever faced anything like this since the Second World War.”

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Lois Swarbrick

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A lamb roast is an Easter tradition that Lois is sticking to this year

Lois has been preparing bits of the Sunday meal for a week. She is making roast lamb with roast potatoes and other vegetables, as well as mint sauce and sage and onion stuffing.

Her “guests”, who will find a meal at their doorstep for about 14:00, will also receive lemon cheesecake with forest fruits as a dessert and a small bottle of wine or beer.

“I just thought it would brighten their days. When someone lives at home alone, it’s hard.”

Public Health England says while it won’t comment on individual cases, it is generally fine to drop things off as long as you are abiding by the 2m (6ft 6in) social distancing rule.

‘Mum will be on her own’

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Stephanie Iguna

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Stephanie Iguna says family moments are important for her children

Stephanie Iguna, 43, an Instagram food influencer from Lyon, will be spending Easter at home with her husband and two sons.

“We’ll really try to make Easter a positive celebration filled with love and joy for our children. These family moments are important to our kids, and they need to have landmarks,” she says.

Stephanie’s family would usually enjoy a “very lively and happy” Easter at her sister’s house, where they would have an egg hunt in her garden.

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Stephanie Iguna

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The chef and food blogger with her husband and two sons

Stephanie will cook a traditional French Easter dish, tourte pascale, as it reminds her of her childhood when she would make this with her mother.

The pie often contains minced and seasoned meat, but this year the chef has decided to go for a veggie version with fresh spinach, goat’s cheese and “hidden eggs”.

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Célia Hartenstein

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Tourte pascale is a dish typically served in France on Easter day

“I am so sad not to be able to share this moment with my mum,” Stephanie says.

“She is 76 years old and she has to be in isolation to not be affected by the virus. We are used to seeing her every day, so knowing she will spend Easter alone is heartbreaking.”

‘I wish I could be with my friends’

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Maria José Sánchez Peñas

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Maria José Sánchez Peñas says she prays every day for her daughter (pictured), who is a nurse

Maria José Sánchez Peñas,53, from Móstoles, near Madrid, will be spending Easter with her husband but not her daughter, who lives with her partner.

“Nothing is the same, we are full of sadness – not because we can’t celebrate but because families are shattered,” Maria José says.

“We are heartbroken.”

Spain has suffered over 16,350 coronavirus deaths, and Maria José’s daughter is among those on the front line.

“My daughter is a nurse in a hospital. I pray every day for her to be strong and endure this challenge,” she says.

Maria José, who owns an accessories shop, says that despite the “horrible situation”, it is important to celebrate.

“We have to pray a lot and never forget Christ gave his life for us,” she says. “We must fill ourselves with his spirit so we can overcome this hard moment and celebrate with joy his resurrection, which represents hope for Christians.”

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Maria José Sánchez Peñas

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A stew of white beans without chorizo was enjoyed on Good Friday

During Lent, her family has been eating vegetarian dishes such as torrijas, which is bread dipped in milk and eggs and then fried.

But on Sunday they will have a “special lunch”, with the main dish being a paella packed with chicken thighs and calamari.

Maria José usually takes part in the annual street procession, where the costaleros carry the Virgin of Solitude – although of course this year that won’t be happening.

“I wish I could be with all my friends, but may God bless us all.”

‘We always look forward to Easter’

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Marianna Villani

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Marianna Villani will miss her 93-year-old grandmother, who is spending Easter alone

Marianna Villani, 25, her parents and six siblings have been holed up in their 18th Century flat in Piazza Navona, the heart of Rome, for five weeks now.

She works from home as a legal assistant, resorting to Zoom for daily catch-ups and workouts with friends to kill the remaining time.

With a death toll of over 19,450, Italy is the second worst-hit country after the USA but the Villani family – who have strong Catholic beliefs – remain enthusiastic about celebrating Easter Sunday because it is the day they believe Jesus was resurrected.

Marianna’s mum, Lisa, will slowly but steadily start cooking a three-course lunch on Sunday morning, with scripelle in brodo – plain egg crêpe in broth – as the first course.

That is followed by abbacchio – Roman roast lamb – with roast potatoes and a mix of peas and bacon.

The colomba, a cake in the shape of a dove – the symbol of peace – will be enjoyed as dessert.

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Getty Images

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The colomba is followed by coffee and liqueurs

Although she is blessed with the company of her large household, Marianna will miss not being able to spend the holiday with the rest of her family.

“We always look forward to Easter because it is one of those rare moments where all 24 of us come together to share some love and good banter. This year we’ve been stripped of that,” she says.

The Roma fan is particularly concerned for her grandmother Orietta, who is 93 and has no-one to care for her while in isolation. “She is forced to spend one of her last Easters alone,” Marianna says.

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Marianna Villani

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Easter is an important time of year for the Villani family

The Villanis would usually go to church for all the different services during Holy Week, but this year they will follow them on TV.

Marianna’s father Marco believes that “every time Easter arrives, it comes to tell us something”.

During weeks of quarantine, he has had time for reflection.

“There is an answer,” Marco says. “It is the only answer: wait for the sun.”

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