• Spain's news in English
 
app_header_v3
Semana Santa
The essential guide to Easter in Spain
An Easter procession in Palma de Mallorca. Photo: AFP

The essential guide to Easter in Spain

Jessica Jones · 22 Mar 2016, 11:02

Published: 22 Mar 2016 11:09 GMT+01:00
Updated: 22 Mar 2016 11:02 GMT+01:00

Why is Easter such a big deal in Spain?

Holy Week (Semana Santa) is the biggest religious celebration of the year in Spain, which means public holidays, a good deal of eating and drinking and lots of processions. Easter is a time for Spaniards to take to the streets and watch elaborate reenactments of the Passion, as well as enjoy some time off work in the company of their families and friends. 

What happens during Semana Santa? 

Elaborate processions take place throughout Holy Week. Associations known as cofradías or ‘brotherhoods’ (whose members take part in the processions) are a strong tradition in Spain, with many dating back to the Middle Ages.

Semana Santa processions are also known as ‘penance processions’ and involve members of the brotherhood (nazarenos) parading from their church to the city’s cathedral.

To spot the start of a procession, look out for the giant cross that is always carried at the front.

Music also plays an important part in Semana Santa processions - most are accompanied by live marching bands that play religious music.

What are they wearing?

The Salud brotherhood procession in Málaga on Palm Sunday 2015. Photo: Jorge Guerrero/AFP

People taking part in Semana Santa processions dress in traditional capirote - the tall conical hat which also covers their faces, as well as in belted robes. 

Capirotes used to be reserved for people doing penance: as a sign of atoning their sins, they would walk through the town wearing the hat, their faces covered so they could not be recognized as sinners. 

Although strikingly similar, they have nothing to do with the hoods worn by the Ku Klux Klan.

Women often wear the mantilla, a black lace veil worn high on the back of the head. Last year, Alicante issued fashion guidelines for women taking part in the city's Easter processions and made it clear red lipsitck and skirts above the knee were definitely not allowed. 

What are they carrying? 

The Palm Sunday procession in Zamora. Photo: Antramir/Flickr

In most Easter processions, participants carry large floats, or pasos, that are adorned with religious sculptures depicting Jesus or Mary, some by renowned Spanish artists. The floats are festooned with flowers and candles and are the focal point of the procession. Many brotherhoods have owned and preserved their pasos for hundreds of years.

Where are the best places to spend Easter in Spain?

For glamour...

If you are after the most glamourous, ornate and lively Semana Santa parades, look no further than Andalusia, especially the cities of Seville and Málaga. The region’s flamenco heritage seeps into its Easter celebrations, making for a fest like no other in Spain and one that attracts the most tourists.

Seville holds some of the biggest Holy Week processions including La Madruga (dawn), a series of processions that take place during the night of Maundy Thursday and into the morning of Good Friday, a highlight of Semana Santa for many spectators. Listen out for the saetas, or bursts of flamenco from people on balconies along the procession route who are so moved by the spectacle they have to express their lament. 

Women wearing the traditional mantilla during Semana Santa in Seville. Photo: Cristina Quicler/AFP

In Málaga, giant tronos, or thrones, are carried through the streets by members of brotherhoods dressed in long purple robes and followed by women dressed in black and wearing the typical mantilla, or lace veil. There is a real festival atmosphere in the city during Holy Week, much livelier than some of the more sombre celebrations in Spain's northern towns and cities. 

For history...

Celebrations in the central region of Castille La Mancha are famous for their more sombre and, some would say, authentic Semana Santa parades.

A holy week procession in Zamora, 2014. Photo: Cesar Manso/AFP

Zamora (pictured above) lays claim to the oldest Semana Santa celebrations in Spain, which date back to 1179. The city, close to the Portuguese border, sees its population increase five times during Holy Week, as up to 300,000 people flock to watch the ancient traditions.

Salamanca also holds Holy Week fests that date back hundreds of years, with the earliest penance processions recorded as far back as 1240. More than 20 brotherhoods organize 16 processions against the beautiful backdrop of the UNESCO World Heritage Site city.

For art...

Valladolid’s processions are renowned for their pasos (floats) which carry religious statues dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries. The city’s National Sculpture Museum donates over 100 images to be used during the processions, making it one of Spain’s most artistic parades.

What should I eat? 

While chocolate Easter eggs are becoming more and more popular, they are not traditionally a big part of Easter celebrations in Spain. But that’s not to say Spaniards don’t have special sweet treats for Holy Week.

Torrijas are a traditional Semana Santa sweet snack of bread soaked in milk and egg before being fried and served with sugar or honey, and are available all over the country during Holy Week.

Pestiños are little pastries popular throughout Spain, but especially in Andalusia. Sesame-flavoured dough is fried then glazed with honey or sugar. 

Ten mouth-watering dishes to enjoy over Easter in Spain 

What will the weather be like? 

Story continues below…

Unfortunately, Spain's national weather agency, Aemet is predicting a showery Semana Santa across much of Spain. But don't let the drizzle put you off the festivities! 

I’m not so bothered about Easter, what else is on over the public holiday

If the thought of jostling in a crowd to glimpse a view of an Easter procession is not your cup of tea, why not check out our guide to the best alternative Easter getaways? 

For more news from Spain, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Jessica Jones (jessica.jones@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Costa del Sol beach closed over shark fears
The Civil Guard patrolled the beach looking for the shark. Photo: Pedrator_desert/ Twitter

Thought jellyfish were a nuisance? Fuengirola just got a lot scarier.

The Local List
15 amazing Unesco World Heritage sites to visit in Spain
The town of Ávila. Photo: Chroniron/Wikimedia Commons.

Spain has an impressive 45 locations listed as Unesco World Heritage sites for their cultural significance or natural beauty, including some that are entire towns. Here's a look at some of the most stunning.

Rajoy says forming new government ‘a wish’
Spain has been subject to a political deadlock for the past eight months. Pierre-Philippe Marcou / AFP file picture

Spain's acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy warned Saturday ahead of parliament's confidence vote for a second term in office that the formation of a new government remained "more of a wish".

Spanish police smash Chinese immigration ring
The Chinese nationals paid the ring about €8,000 to get a fake work contract. Photo: Cristina Quicler /AFP

Spanish police said Saturday they had smashed a major ring allegedly providing Chinese nationals living illegally in the country with fake contracts as domestic staff so they could get residency permits.

Gallery
10 super Spanish drinks everyone should try
Photo: Ignacio Palomo Duarte/Flickr

While we've all been tempted by the Spanish holiday classic of a chilled glass of sangria, Spain has much more to offer when it comes to tantalizing tipples.

Property
Buy your own Mediterranean island paradise for just €5m

Got a spare €5 million? Then this Mediterranean island paradise could be yours.

Vamos a la playa! These are Spain's top ten beaches
Playa de Ses Illetes, Formentera, Europe's best beach. Photo:Photo: Ismail Mia/Flickr

Spain has five beaches in Europe's top ten. The Local gives you a tour.

Spanish economy continues to grow despite lack of govt
Photo: Contando Estrelas/Flickr

Spain's economic growth continued in the second quarter even as the country remains mired in political limbo after two inconclusive general elections.

Shocking video shows torture of young calf during fiesta
Cruelty in the name of fun? Photo: Pacma

Bullfighting fiestas reached a new low with the torture of a young calf.

Ethan Hawkes to be honoured with San Sebastián award
Ethan Hawke in the Magnificent Seven

The Hollywood actor will be given the Donastia lifetime achievement at the 64th San Sebastián Film Festival.

Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Police launch appeal for Costa Blanca hit and run driver
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Politics
What political deadlock? Spain economy forges ahead
Features
Eight reasons to spend your gap year exploring Spain
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
International
'We won't ban burqinis on our beaches' insists Barcelona
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
National
British dad drowns saving daughter on red flagged beach
National
11 Spanish words that English must adopt right now
Lifestyle
Justin Bieber just bought an amazing new pad in Lanzarote
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Lifestyle
Recipe: How to make Andalusian Ajo Blanco soup
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Travel
Keep passports safe: Typical pickpocket scams revealed
Travel
Ten touristy types you'll meet in Spain: Which one are you?
Sponsored Article
Jordan Pass: your ticket to the experience of a lifetime
Lifestyle
Ten top tips to avoid looking like a guiri when in Spain
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
International
Don't miss this spectacular meteor shower over Spain
Travel
Desperate Ryanair passenger chases after missed flight
Travel
What's on in Spain: August 2016
National
Get your kit off! Spain's ten best nudist beaches
National
German firestarter blames blaze on 'toilet paper mishap'
National
Flashmob prank sparks 'terror attack' panic in Spanish resort
Culture
Croquemon Go: Spain invents twist on game to 'eat 'em all'
Technology
Six free apps to simplify your summer in Spain
National
Spanish parents fight for right to name their son 'Wolf'
National
Beach closed after shark attack in southern Spain
National
Spain ups security at tourist spots as terrorism fears grow
National
Ten great reasons to discover the real Malaga right now
3,160
jobs available