La Semana Santa: An Easter celebration you should know about!
Updated: Apr 5
By Claudia Birchenough
La Semana Santa is an Easter celebration like no other! There is still a strong presence of Christianity in Spain, so the Holy Week is greatly celebrated all over the country and thousands of people take part in processions in many cities throughout Spain. Whilst studying Spanish at A-level, this specific festival was very interesting to me as it is so different to the way we celebrate Easter in the UK. When I think of Easter, I think of the Easter Bunny, Easter egg hunts and getting together with all the family for a big roast dinner, and whilst some of these traditions are seen in Spain, they have their own, very unique way of celebrating the Holy Week.
One overwhelming factor that surprised me when learning about La Semana Santa was that throughout the week there is a very sombre atmosphere surrounding the festivities as the Spaniards remember all that Christ sacrificed for them on the cross. There are many processions held that travel through the city streets, where groups of men (usually they are all from the same religious brotherhood) carry extravagant floats through the town for hours; there are usually two floats carried, one depicts Christ and the other represents The Virgin Mary. These floats are so heavy that the strongest men are chosen to carry them, and even they struggle with the weight, however this is seen as an honour as it is likened to the pain that Christ felt on the cross when he sacrificed himself for humanity. The floats are followed by men, known as ‘nazarenos’, that wear tall, pointed hats that cover their faces and they often carry crosses, candles, or torches and women join the processions wearing all black and usually a black veil over their face to symbolise their mourning.
This festival is not as wild as other Spanish festivals, however, the solemn atmosphere does not last through the whole week; there are still many ways in which the Spaniards celebrate and enjoy their Easter time. Between processions, bars, cafes, and restaurants will be full of locals and tourists who have come to join in on the festivities. Andalusian cities, such as Seville and Malaga, are known for having the more lively celebrations, with families staying up partying all through the night! Performances of flamenco which are sung from peoples balconies, known as ‘saetas’, can also be expected during Semana Santa. Originally, these were passionate outbursts of emotion that would randomly occur throughout the week, however they are now usually pre-planned and people will stop in the processions to watch.
There are many Spanish treats that are associated with Easter that are enjoyed during this week. Torrijas are a popular sweet treat that is found all over Spain during La Semana Santa, every region has their own version but all are very sweet and delicious! Another common sweet eaten at Easter time are ‘buñelos’ which are a donut like dessert that are fried in oil and rolled in sugar. One of the most popular treats is the ‘Mona de Pasca’ which is an Easter cake that will be made in bakeries and households all over the country. Traditionally, these cakes were given as gifts from godparents to their godchildren and they would decorate the cake with boiled eggs; however, boiled eggs aren’t the most popular topping nowadays and people have started to use chocolates, sweets or something a bit more tasty.
If you love to be fully immersed in culture on your trips abroad, La Semana Santa is definitely an event to add to your bucket list! It is such a unique and grand celebration, and definitely makes a change from your British egg hunt and roast dinner. Obviously, due to the grandeur and popularity of the festival, hotel prices increase significantly at this time of year in the major cities, so it may be worth staying away from the popular cities such as Seville or Madrid and just travelling from a surrounding area for a day to see the processions. However, if it is in your budget, I’m sure it would be well worth the money to spend the whole week enjoying the celebration!