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La Semana Santa
The Spanish word for 'Easter' is Pascua.
The fasting period of forty days that leads up to Easter is called Lent. The Spanish word for Lent is la Cuaresma. Lent represents the forty (cuarenta) days that Jesus spent praying and fasting in the desert after His baptism.
The period of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday - el Miércoles de Ceniza.
The seven days leading up to Easter Day 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, Spanish people go to church - la iglesia - 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. 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. Los pasos are beautifully decorated with flowers, gold, silver, candles and fine fabrics.
Photo below: una procesión del Domingo de Ramos.
The heavy floats are carried by men called costaleros. They 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.
Image: Un costalero during a procession of Holy Week (Semana Santa) in the Spanish city of Sevilla.
Los costaleros are hidden underneath the float, making el paso seem to glide along the road!
Below is an image of costaleros practising how to carry a float.
After all the rehearsing, when the actual Easter processions take place, los costaleros in the photo above will be hidden by fabric draped all around the float.
The person in charge of the float is called el capataz. In the image below, 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 el capataz.
The floats (los pasos) are followed and surrounded by people known as los nazarenos / las nazarenas. Another name for them is los penitentes.
Los nazarenos (or penitentes) are people who wear long robes. They 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.
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 suffering of Jesús and the events leading up to the Crucifixion - la Crucifixión.
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 by an individual singer to a statue in a procession. The singer's voice seems to be thrown or projected like an arrow or dart. It really does seem that the statue is alive and and has stopped to listen.
The sound of la saeta fills the whole area of the procession, for everyone to hear. The word saeta literally means 'dart.'
Saeta - Joana Jiménez
00:00 / 00:00
On el Viernes Santo, (Good Friday), meat is not eaten. On this day, the Crucifixion of Jesus is commemorated and meat is associated with the body of Jesus, therefore it is considered inappropriate to eat meat on this day. Instead, meals are made with fish and vegetables. Popular meat-free foods for Holy Week and Good Friday in Spain are la sopa de ajo (garlic soup) and el potaje de vigilia ( a stew of cod, chickpeas and spinach.)
In Spain, Holy Week is a time of solemn but impressive processions, attending church, and commemorating the events leading up to and including the Crucifixion of Jesus.
However, on Easter Day (el Domingo de Resurrección) and Easter Monday - el Lunes de Pascua - it is a time of happiness! On Easter Day, after three days of solemn silence, the church bells ring happily in order to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus (la Resurrección de Jesús).
On Easter Day in Spain, it is the tradition to eat el cordero - lamb.
A popular Easter cake of celebration is called la mona de Pascua. It is particularly popular in the areas of Cataluña, Aragón, Valencia, Murcia and Castilla-La Mancha. It is decorated with coloured feathers and big chocolate eggs or figurines. Cake shops compete to see who can make the most impressive monas to place in their shop windows! Nowadays, las monas can be 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 to be eaten on Easter Monday. This day is also referred to as el día de la mona.
In the drawing from an old Spanish magazine (around the year 1866) you can see a godfather (un padrino) giving una mona to his godchild.
The drawing shows the original old-fashioned mona which was a type of brioche base holding hard-boiled eggs. The amount of eggs represented the age of the godchild (ahijado / ahijada).
Here are some more Spanish Easter foods:
a. El hornazo is a pie filled with meat such as chorizo, sausage, ham and eggs. There is also a sweet version called el hornazo dulce: it has the same meat and egg filling but it has a sweet pastry crust!
El hornazo is traditionally eaten in the area of Salamanca on the Monday, a week after Easter Day.
In this part of Spain, the occasion is known as el Lunes de Aguas - 'Monday of Waters'. The word 'waters' refers to the River Tormes. People sit merrily on the river banks or in the countryside, having picnics and eating el hornazo after the solemnity of Holy Week.
Photo: el hornazo filled with meat and egg.
b. Las torrijas are thick slices of bread, soaked in milk and beaten egg, fried in olive oil and served with sugar or honey.
Las torrijas are popular throughout Spain during la Semana Santa.
c. Los pestiños are little fritters. A flour mixture prepared with cinnamon and orange peel is shaped into individual pieces that are deep-fried in olive oil then sprinkled with honey or sugar. Sesame is often added to the flour mixture.
d. La leche frita literally means 'fried milk.' It is a mixture of milk, flour, sugar, egg and cinnamon that is heated until it thickens. The thickened mixture is sliced into portions then fried and dusted with sugar.
e. Las rosquillas de Semana Santa are Easter doughnuts, popular during Holy Week.
f. There are also las flores de Semana Santa - fritters shaped like flowers.
On Holy 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 to show respect and to think about the suffering and death of Jesús.
It is on el Jueves Santo that the Last Supper of Jesús with los doce discípulos is commemorated. In Spanish it is called la Última Cena.
On el Jueves Santo, in the town of Verges, in Cataluña, there is a very famous event every year. It is a skeleton dance! It is called La Danza de la Muerte. A skeleton family of two adults and three children dress up in costumes and dance to a drum beat. On the scythe of a skeleton is written Nemini Parco - the Latin words for 'Nobody is spared.'
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