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Semana Santa in Spain Posted by on Apr 2, 2010 in Holidays, Spanish Culture

We talked about Carnavales (Carnival) a few weeks ago, and now it’s time to do the same about Semana Santa (Easter). The weeks after Carnaval leading up to Semana Santa are known as Cuaresma (Lent), a word related to the number cuarenta (forty), because forty days is the period when Christians prepare themselves with prayers, fast and penance for this celebration. It starts on Miércoles de Ceniza (Ash Wednesday) with the imposition of ashes on the forehead, and finishes with the picturesque and joyful Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday).

El Domingo de Ramos is the prelude to the annual commemoration of Jesus of Nazareth’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection. As both a Christian and cultural festivity here in Spain, this celebration is focused on religious imagery, which is the heart and soul of our procesiones (processions). The entire city or town celebrates these days out on the streets, being mere spectators, dedicating “Saetas” (religious songs in honour of Jesus Nazarene or his suffering mother, with flamenco tones and Arabic roots) to the passing images, or joining the procession while carrying candles. These Pasos (images) are lifted and carried by costaleros (bearers), and accompanied by penitentes (penitents), and women dressed with mantillas. Each of the images represents a different moment of suffering along the Via Crucis, or some other biblical scene, as well as miracles or apparitions related to Christ or the Virgin Mary.

Image by Guijarro85 CC

The figure of the penitente is as eye-catching as the Pasos themselves. They wear long robes, and hide their faces under a capirote (pointed hood), which lends them a somewhat sinister appearance. The shape of the hood is said to be a way to remind us humans that, through repentance, you can get closer to Heaven. Different colors in their dressings identify them as members of the different cofradías (brotherhoods), associations with a common spirit, and deeply attached to the imagen (image) they worship: la Virgen de la Macarena is very popular in Seville, El Cristo de los Gitanos here in Granada…

Image by fernand0 CC

This is a poem by the great Spanish writer Antonio Machado about the saeta:

“Dijo una voz popular:
¿Quién me presta una escalera
para subir al madero
para quitarle los clavos
a Jesús el Nazareno?

Oh, la saeta, el cantar
al Cristo de los gitanos
siempre con sangre en las manos,
siempre por desenclavar.

Cantar del pueblo andaluz
que todas las primaveras
anda pidiendo escaleras
para subir a la cruz.

Cantar de la tierra mía
que echa flores
al Jesús de la agonía
y es la fe de mis mayores.”

(La saeta-Antonio Machado)

However, not only penance, or processions are at the core of our Semana Santa. Gastronomy also plays a very important part. Due to fasting, Christians are not allowed to eat meat during these days, so fish and vegetables are often the main course: sopas (soups), potajes (stews) bacalao (cod)… But, if I had to choose something I really love about Semana Santa it would be the desserts! Torrijas (French toast), pestiños (fried dough covered in honey), buñuelos (fritters), leche frita (fried milk), arroz con leche (rice pudding)… I can´t wait to get my hands on these!

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About the Author:Magda

Hi all! I’m Magda, a Spanish native speaker writing the culture posts in the Transparent Language Spanish blog. I have a Bachelor’s in English Philology and a Master’s in Linguistics and Literature from the University of Granada, in Spain. I have also completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Education, and then worked as an English teacher in several schools and academies for several years. Last year was my first at university level. In addition, I work as a private tutor, teaching English and Spanish as a foreign language to students and adults. In my free time, I’m an avid reader and writer, editing and collaborating in several literary blogs. I have published my first poetry book recently. And last but not least, I love photography!


  1. alia butler:

    Magda,I like this post about Semana Santa in Spain. I am going to google the recipes for those delicious looking desserts. ¡Qué Delicíoso!

  2. ines:

    Hola Magda,

    Estuve la semana santa pasada en Córdoba y en Granada y la pasé divinamente, sobre todo por el cálido clima andaluz tan reconfortante.

    Excelente post.

  3. Magda:

    Alia, creo que ya estás probando los dulces jeje.

    Ines, es estupendo que hayas estado por Andalucía. Este año tuvimos muy buen tiempo realmente. ¿Y hay algo que te haya gustado especialmente de la semana santa en estas ciudades?

  4. paola:

    la semana santa es para venerar lo que jesucristo hiso por todos nosptro

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