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SPANISH TRADITIONS

The essential guide to Easter in Spain in 2022

While the mesmerising processions of Semana Santa may have been cancelled during the height of the pandemic, this year they're back. Here's why Easter is so important in Spain, how it's celebrated and the Covid restrictions in place.

The essential guide to Easter in Spain in 2022
An Easter procession in Palma de Mallorca. Photo: AFP

In 2022, Easter in Spain runs from April 10th to April 17th, with Good Friday (April 15th) a national holiday and Thursday (April 14th) a regional holiday in many autonomous communities.

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.

READ MORE: Spain’s Easter white hoods are a symbol of penance, not of right-wing extremism

Women often wear the mantilla, a black lace veil worn high on the back of the head, and have strict costume rules to adhere to. 

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 glamorous and ornate Semana Santa parades, look no further than Andalusia, especially the cities of Seville, Granada 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 Madrugá (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 organise 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.

Be aware, not everywhere celebrates Semana Santa with the same enthusiasm. In Catalonia for example, big processions are not common. You may only find one or two smaller ones, instead of the long ones that occur every day of Holy Week in Andalusia. 

READ ALSO: Seven surprisingly weird traditions celebrated at Easter in Spain

What do the Spanish 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. 

In Catalonia and Valencia regions, monas de Pascua are traditional – Easter cakes complete with hard-boiled or chocolate eggs. 

Discover what other mouth-watering Easter treats you find in Spain here

Will there be any Covid-19 restrictions this year?

Most restrictions have now been relaxed across Spain and they are not expected to be tightened again before Easter, however as we have seen, the pandemic has been very unpredictable. 

Each region has slightly different Covid-19 rules, meaning that it could depend on where you are in Spain, however restrictions are expected to be limited. 

The Ministry of Health has advised that distances are kept between people in the parades and that spectators are spaced out as much as possible, particularly when people are eating, drinking or smoking. 

One of the main restrictions that may be enforced is the use of masks in situations where distances between people can’t be maintained. For example, the Minister of Health and Families of the Andalusian government, Jesús Aguirre, has said that citizens must wear masks when they are in crowds. 

What will the weather be like? 

Spaniards will tell you “it always rains in Semana Santa” but as March already saw a lot of rain across Spain and Easter falls in the middle of April this year, it’s more likely to be fine during the parades. But you never know! So check the forecast and if there is even the slightest chance of rain, make sure to carry an umbrella.

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SPANISH TRADITIONS

Is this Spain’s most ‘grotesque’ bull festival?

Twisting and grunting, a terrified bull with burning balls of tar attached to its horns charges into the darkness in a small town in Spain. Organisers don't want the general public to see the footage as "they know it's not culture, it's animal abuse," say activists.

Is this Spain's most 'grotesque' bull festival?

Animal rights campaigners have called for a ban on a centuries-old festival in the medieval town of Medinaceli, calling it animal abuse.

The ironically named Toro de Júbilo – “Bull of Joy” – is an event which typically takes place on the second weekend in November.

Spanish anti-animal cruelty party PACMA has said it is mulling legal action against organisers of the event.

“This grotesque tradition continues to be celebrated even though we are no longer in the Stone Age,” it tweeted.

You can watch footage of the event in the YouTube video below. It is age-restricted given the graphic nature of the event.

Just before midnight on Saturday, a group of mostly men dressed in matching grey uniforms drag the bull into a makeshift bullring set up in the main square of the Castilla y León town.

They then tie the bull to a wooden post and attach balls of highly flammable tar to its horns as hundreds of people watch behind barriers. 

They cake mud to the animal’s back and face in an effort to protect it from the flames, before setting the tar balls alight.

Participants then release the bull into the square, covered in sand for the occasion, to cheers and applause from the crowd.

fire bull festival medinaceli

The bull is caged for several hours in a small box and covered in mud before the depraved spectacle begins. (Photo by CESAR MANSO / AFP)

The bull frantically shakes its head to try to rid itself of the burning balls of tar as it races around the square.

Revellers then jump into the ring and attempt to dodge the bull in a purported test of courage. Some dangle a cape in front of it.

This continues for about 20 minutes until the flammable balls on its horns go out and the bull collapses. It is then dragged out of the ring.

‘Simply animal abuse’

The bull’s life is traditionally spared at the end of the event.

But in the 2022 edition the animal died after another young, castrated bull – which organisers sent into the bullring to guide him out of the arena – rammed him in the head, the festival said.

Jaime Posada, of the Spanish branch of animal rights group Anima Naturalis, which is also calling for a ban, said the bull is kept in a tight pen for hours before it is dragged into the square.

“It can’t move, it can hardly sit down, so it is stressed simply from that,” he told AFP.

Participants attach flammable balls to the bull’s horns before releasing it. (Photo by CESAR MANSO / AFP)

Participants declined to be interviewed, and PACMA and other opponents of the fiesta said locals prevented them from filming the ritual.

“Why are they afraid? Basically because they know that this is not culture, it’s simply animal abuse and they enjoy doing it,” Posada said.

The festival, however, is one of the main events for Medinaceli, which is home to around 650 people.

The regional government of Castilla y León has even given the festival a special cultural status.

The Medinaceli town hall did not respond to a request to comment.

There is growing opposition among Spaniards to the hundreds of bull festivals which take place in Spain, but in rural communities in particular, many people still support these old traditions involving varying degrees of torture and distress for the bulls, and in many cases death.

Another controversial bull festival is El Toro de la Vega in Tordesillas near Valladolid, which sees one bull hunted to the death through the town’s streets by lancers on horseback and some on foot.

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