Easter is celebrated differently all over the world. The Spanish people commemorate the whole week of Easter, the Semana Santa, in a very religious way. Find out which traditions are popular in Spain!
Easter in a Very Different Way
“The bunny brings the eggs? But why?!”- Our Spanish friends were flabbergasted when we told them our German Easter custom. Surely you’ve also asked yourselves one time or another what the Easter bunny has to do with the eggs. Every year on Easter we paint the eggs in the most dazzling colours, we buy sweet chocolate eggs and bunnies and our Easter bunny hides them.
The Legend of the Easter Bunny
The legend of the Easter bunny says that a bunny hid in the tomb in which Jesus was brought. Suddenly the scared bunny saw something really incredible: Jesus unfolding the clothes in which he was wrapped in. An angel came and took away the stone which locked the tomb. Thenceforth the bunny understood that Jesus was revived and wanted to inform all about this miracle. But because he couldn’t speak he used the coloured egg as a sign of life and joy.
Our Spanish friends also celebrate the week of Easter, which is called Semana Santa here, in a very religious way. Find out here how different the Semana Santa (the Holy Week) is to the German Easter Celebration.
While the Germans usually only celebrate Easter Sunday with an ample Easter brunch and a lot of eggs, the Spanish value the whole Holy Week highly. From Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, Spain becomes a big folk festival.
For eight days you have the opportunity to relive the last days of Jesus’ life: With processions, theatre and music that gets under the skin, you can experience Easter intensely. Because the really complex processions have an immense religious, historical and cultural quality, the Semana Santa already belongs to the cultural world heritage by UNESCO.
This spectacle is one you really shouldn’t miss!
Palm Leaves as Far as the Eye Can See
One of the most important ceremonial acts of the Semana Santa is Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. In this age it was a common practice to welcome kings and other important personalities with a rain of flowers and waves of palm leafs. Nowadays the big leaves play an important role at Domingo de Ramos. After mass every visitor takes one palm leaf that was consecrated by the pastor. They hang it on a wall in their homes where it protects from the bad vibrations for the entire year.
The first important procession is also dedicated to the palm leaves: With palm leaves and olive branches in their hands, children, adults and all who want to have a feeling for Jesus´ triumphal entry accompany the festive procession.
Of course you also can experience the Semana Santa on Tenerife! The amazing city La Laguna organises the Procesión de la Burrita. In the procession Jesus enters on a donkey the city Jerusalem. You can watch last year’s procession here:
Another important custom you shouldn’t miss on Palm Sunday for any reason:
“En Domingo de Ramos, quien no estrena, no tiene manos.”
This is a Spanish meaning: Put on a brand-new piece of clothing! It doesn’t matter if it is socks, a new T-shirt or a completely new outfit- You will have luck the whole year!
For months, pastors, altar servers and members of numerous brotherhoods prepare the elaborate processions. They also decorate churches down to the smallest detail. The Costaleros, carriers, train for weeks in order to be able to carry the heavy platforms with the carved saints on their shoulder. Around 40 men are necessary to carry around the Pasos, the holy chairs, through the streets. They are accompanied by penitents who wear long robes, pointed high caps and masks. Barefooted, they are reminiscent of the scary Ku Klux Klan figures.
The precious saints, decorated mostly with real gold, are the centrepieces of every procession. In the rhythm of drums they walk through the streets and at night they use torches and candles to light the way.
You can take part in or just watch the processions of the whole Semana Santa. The most amazing processions on Tenerife are staged in the towns La Laguna, Güímar and La Orotava.
A Sea of Flowers
From Holy Thursday until Easter Sunday you can admire in Guía de Isora extraordinary beautiful creations of flowers. Every year the florists have other ideas: The flower artists bond colourful flowers together to aesthetic sprays which reenact single scenes of the last days of Jesus Christ. This event is unique to Spain and enchants the town!
Culinary Deliciousnesses on Miércoles Santo
On “Miércoles Santo” Jesus was betrayed by Judas for 30 silver coins. Every town and village celebrates this day in their own way. On our beautiful Island Tenerife there is a special culinary event on the Holy Wednesday: At 20:00 the traditional contest of the typical Easter delicacies Torrijas takes place in the Restaurant Patio Canario in La Laguna. Torrijas are slices of white bread soaked with milk, sugar and egg and afterwards fried in hot oil. In English they are also known as French toast.
The contest occurs in the context of the Semanas Gastronomícas de Vigilia y Vino. It’s the eleventh edition of these gourmet weeks. From March 18 until March 27 you can enjoy tasty Easter menus in 30 restaurants in La Laguna. Because the Lenten fast precedes Easter, the menu doesn’t contain meat. Instead you can drink a lot of wine and eat local specialities.
It´s really worth trying the typical dish on Lenten days named Sancocho! This is a salted fish served with potatoes, the traditional grain Gofio and the Canarian sauce Mojo!
Another typical Spanish pastries are the so-called Pestiños. Do you want to taste the sweet delicacy? Then prepare them yourself! Here you will find the recipe.
A Trip to Seven Churches
On Jueves Santo, also known as the day of grace and charity, all good Christians should visit seven chapels or churches to remember the different routes Jesus Christ made before his death, from the olive grove where he was arrested to the Calvary where he was crucified.
Every church and chapel is open day and night for the visitors. There are lit candles, and the people pray the rosary and ask for forgiveness.
Furthermore, from Holy Thursday on the most important processions take place.
Day of Mourning
The Viernes Santo is the day of the great pain. People think on the life of suffering and Jesus Christ’s death. In some parts of Spain it’s customary to wear black clothes: Women put black dresses and scarves on, the men black suits.
It’s still dark. You smell frankincense. You hear the rhythm of the carriers’ stamping feet and their heavy breathing. The first procession in La Laguna on this Holy Friday starts at four o’clock in the morning! Still before sunrise the Procesión de Madrugada, the procession of the break of dawn, takes place.
La Laguna is one of the most important cities on Tenerife during the Semana Santa. The Holy Week is very similar to the Castilian one and distances itself strictly from the one in Andalusia. The Laguneros are proud of their festivities: In the historic urban centre you can experience some of the most beautiful processions. You find the exact beginning of La Laguna’s official programme here.
A Town in Silence
One procession a day isn’t enough for the Laguneros. At 22:00 on Holy Friday the procession starts, but in silence. Everyone comes to their senses in the Procession of Silence, La Procesión de Silencio. The only thing that breaks the silence is the ringing of the bells that are fixed on the throne. Very slowly they move ahead, out of respect for the saviour. The community seems to have compassion, pausing devoutly.
Back to the Past
You can not only witness the Semana Santa in the north of the Canary Island, but also in the south. In Adeje a true-to-life spectacle takes place every year: Around 400 amateur actors reenact the final period of Jesus’ life, also called the Passion. Broadcasted live on international TV with thousands of visitors, it’s the biggest spectacle of Semana Santa on Tenerife. Have you always wanted to act in a real theatre?
Then sign up to be an actor! From 8:00 to 22:00 you can enroll in the Centro Cultural de Adeje.
The contemporary market feels like a trip back in time. There you can buy typical food and local animals like goats, horses, sheep and camels.
The last day of the Holy Week is celebrated with water in some villages in Valencia. Don’t be surprised if you’re walking down the street and suddenly a splash of water is thrown on you or a plate accidentally ends up on your head.
The resurrection of Jesus is commemorated by a new beginning: This means old contents are disposed of and thrown out of the window. As the Christians of the time weren’t allowed to wash themselves during the Semana Santa until the Holy Saturday, the wash day was celebrated extensively and every person was washed if he wanted to be or not.
All of Spain celebrates the day of Resurrection of Jesus differently: Some paint eggs in colours like the Germans do. This tradition has been going on since the year 1767. In other places a corn dolly is burned or the pastor throws sweets from the balcony to the crowd after mass.
On the Canary Island La Palma the people don’t search for eggs but for the sculpture of Saint Mary: During the Procesión del Encuentro the men walk through the streets with the sculpture of Jesus, looking for the sculpture of Saint Mary.
The pastor is welcomed by loud shouting: Children pelt him with plants so that he has to take refuge to the crowd. From there he throws coins and sweets to the children.
Not only customs and traditions play a big role during the Semana Santa, but you should also pay attention to special things. Some myths persist stubbornly in Spanish minds:
- Beware of climbing up a tree! You could transform into a monkey.
- You shouldn’t take a bath in a river. Perhaps you convert into a slippery fish!
- Avoid wearing red clothes! This represents the evil ghosts, which you really shouldn’t attract during the Holy Week.
You see, the Semana Santa is full of customs and traditions that are so variegated and quaint that they can only exist in such a crazy country as Spain! And on our favourite Canary Island Tenerife there is something for everyone! So, let’s go to La Laguna to the impressive processions or to Adeje for the once in a lifetime opportunity to play a Roman soldier!
Have a lot of fun and a nice Semana Santa!