La Semana Santa en España
The Spanish word for 'Easter' is Pascua.
The fasting period of forty days that leads up to Easter is called Lent. Lent is called La Cuaresma in Spanish.
The seven days leading up to Easter Sunday are called
Holy Week, or La Semana Santa in Spanish. All over Spain, it is a week of spectacular street processions (procesiones).
The first day of La Semana Santa is Palm Sunday.
In Spanish, it is el Domingo de Ramos.
The word ramos means 'bouquets' and 'branches.'
On the morning of el Domingo de Ramos, most Spanish people go to church to celebrate the day when Jesús rode into Jerusalén and was welcomed by the people laying palm leaves on the ground in front of Him.
In Spain, when you go to church on Palm Sunday you carry a palm branch or an olive branch.
Boys carry a plain branch and girls carry one that has been decorated with ribbons and sweets. The branches are then blessed by the priest.
During La Semana Santa, starting on el Domingo de Ramos, Spanish towns have street parades every day.
In the processions, people carry and follow floats,
known as pasos.
On the floats, there are statues of Jesús and La Virgen María. The floats are beautifully decorated with flowers, gold, silver, candles and fine fabrics.
The heavy floats are carried by men called costaleros. These men have the very difficult job of carrying the extremely heavy weight of the float.
The costaleros practise for months so that the rhythm and speed of how they walk is perfect for the processions of Holy Week.
Los costaleros must carry the weight of the float on their shoulders and neck. In order to do this, their heads and shoulders are protected by a cushioned
head scarf called un costal.
Costaleros de La Semana Santa de Sevilla.
Photo by Ángel Cachón.
Photo above: costaleros carrying a heavy float on their shoulders, during a Holy Week procession.
Often, los costaleros are hidden underneath the float, making el paso seem to glide along the road!
Below is a photo of costaleros practising how to carry a float.
After all the rehearsing, when the actual Easter processions arrive, los costaleros in the photo above will be hidden by fabric draped all around the float.
Below: the person in charge of the float is called
el capataz. He is checking that los costaleros are well-prepared underneath.
It is his job to guide the float along its route. The men underneath cannot see where they are going so they must always listen to the commands and signals given by
The floats (los pasos) are followed and surrounded by people known as nazarenos.
Los nazarenos are men, women and children who wear long robes. These people are unrecognisable because they wear veils to cover their faces. The veil is called un antifaz
and it is usually draped over a tall, cone shaped hat
known as un capirote.
Above: Photo of nazarenos wearing un capirote, by photographer Marcelo del Pozo.
By keeping their faces covered, los nazarenos are all identical and anonymous. This helps them to concentrate on saying prayers in a humble way.
Below: Photo of nazarenos participating in a Holy Week procession.
Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Every nazareno and costalero belongs to a 'Christian brotherhood' known as una cofradía or una hermandad. Each brotherhood is identified through the colours they wear.
During Holy Week, each brotherhood has a procession with its own nazarenos, costaleros, theme, musical band and route to follow.
Whilst watching the processions, everyone thinks about the death of Jesús and the events leading up to His death.
Sometimes, los nazarenos will be barefoot or have chains attached to their ankles. This discomfort helps them to think about the suffering of Jesus at the time of His death.
During the processions, often you will hear someone singing a special Easter song called una saeta. It is sung without music and it has a very special sound. It is sung in the open air to the statues of the procession. The singer's voice seems to be carried for a long distance, filling the air, for everyone to hear.
Click HERE to watch videos of una saeta.
On Maundy Thursday (el Jueves Santo) all the church bells are tied so that they remain silent. They do not ring again until Easter Day. This is in respect and remembrance of the suffering and death of Jesús.
On el Jueves Santo, (Maundy Thursday), in the town of Verges, in Cataluña, there is a very famous event every year. It is a skeleton dance!
It is called La Dansa de la Mort. Two adults and three children dress up in skeleton costumes and dance to a drum beat.
Photo by: Bernatff.
On el Viernes Santo, (Good Friday), meat is not eaten. That is why dishes for this day are made with fish and vegetables. Popular foods for Good Friday in Spain are
sopa de ajo (garlic soup) and potaje de vigilia ( a stew of cod, chick peas and spinach.)
During the period of Easter in Spain, torrijas are eaten. These are thick slices of bread, soaked in milk and beaten egg, fried in olive oil and served with sugar or honey.
Torrijas, by jonathunder.
Another Easter food is un pestiño. This is a plain and simple little fritter. A flour mixture is fried in olive oil and then sprinkled with honey or sugar. Sesame is often added to the flour mixture.
Above: un pestiño, by Ismael Olea.
Easter week in Spain is a time of serious processions and remembering the events leading up to and including the death of Jesus.
But, on Easter Day (El Domingo de Resurrección) it is a day of happiness and celebration because on this day the Resurrection of Jesus is remembered.
A popular cake of celebration to eat on Easter Day is called La Mona de Pascua. It is decorated with coloured feathers and big chocolate figurines.
Cake shops compete to see who can make the most impressive monas to place in their shop windows!
Nowadays, the monas are so ambitious and wonderful, that they even talk about them on the television news! Some monas look like sculptures carved out of chocolate.
Traditionally, godparents give una mona to their godchild as a gift for Easter Day.
Photo above of una mona.
The picture above is from an old Spanish magazine (around the year 1866). It shows a godfather (padrino) giving una mona to his godchild on Easter Day.
To watch a video on how to prepare una mona click HERE.
During the happy days of Easter Sunday and Easter Monday, it is the tradition to eat lamb.
Lamb, el cordero, is the traditional meat for
Easter Day in Spain.
Paella is also popular.
On el lunes de Pascua (Easter Monday) families like to go out for the day, to parks or to the countryside, where they have a picnic.
They make sure to take una mona with them. For this reason, Easter Monday in Spain is very often called
el día de la mona.
There are some more traditional foods to eat in Spain at Easter: Hornazo is a pie filled with pork, eggs and ham. There is also a sweet version, filled with almonds, egg and aniseed.
Photo of un hornazo, by Juan Fernández. It is decorated with an Easter cross.
Leche frita is a dessert, meaning 'fried milk.'
Rosquillas de Semana Santa are Easter doughnuts.
The most exciting place to visit during La Semana Santa is probably the city of Sevilla in the south of Spain.
Its processions are the most impressive and famous,
attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors.
As a result, the city becomes overcrowded, but it is a very exciting and interesting time to be there!
Here are some more useful words for Easter:
la iglesia - the church
La Cruz - The Cross
La Crucifixión - The Crucifixion
la misa - the Mass
la oración - the prayer
el rezo - the prayer
el huevo - the egg
el chocolate - the chocolate
For a Spanish Easter quiz, click HERE.
To watch videos of una saeta click HERE.
To watch videos of unas procesiones de la Semana Santa en España click HERE