10 Surprising Facts About Semana Santa in Spain
Did you know that Easter celebrations last an entire week in Spain? That’s right, Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebrates the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ with a week of festivities across the country.
Semana Santa is an incredibly important religious holiday in Spain, but it also plays a significant role in their history and cultural identity.
Let’s dive into all you need to know about Semana Santa in Spain and explore 10 surprising facts you may not know!
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1. Parades typically showcase up to 40 different extravagant floats.
Semana Santa is best known for its grand processions.
Between 20 and 40 costaleros, or “bearers,” work together to carry the large floats weighing more than 2,204 lbs (1,000 kg). It’s a great honor to be a costalero and to carry one of these floats, called pasos in Spanish.
On each paso, you’ll find intricate sculptures of Jesus and Mother Mary that depict scenes from the story of Christ and carry incense and flowers.
Many of these beautiful masterpieces date back to the 16th century and are treasured cultural relics.
2. Semana Santa celebrations date back to the 16th century.
Did you know Semana Santa has been celebrated since medieval times in Spain?
In the 16th century, the Catholic Church decided that believers should express their appreciation for the story of Christ through outward displays of devotion.
Since then, townspeople have participated in the various processions and vigils that continue today.
Despite being one of Spain’s oldest festivals, it is still one of its most important holidays. Many businesses and restaurants close as families head to their villages and enjoy a week of eating, resting, remembering, and celebrating.
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3. Holy Thursday celebrations last all night until Good Friday.
Imagine attending a parade celebration that lasts an entire night!
That’s precisely what many Spaniards do during La Madruga, the night between Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. People gather in the town streets to eat, drink, and be merry until dawn.
On Holy Saturday, some Spaniards will remain silent to pay respect to the death of Jesus. With the rising sun on Sunday, they light a candle and wrap up their week of festivities.
4. Over 1 million tourists visit Seville during Semana Santa.
Did you know that people travel from all over the world to experience Holy Week in Spain?
In the Andalusian city of Seville, celebrations were declared a Fiesta of International Tourist Interest and continue to bring in over 1 million visitors every year!
Despite the influx of visitors across the country, much of Spain shuts down during Holy Week. Many shops, restaurants, and businesses will close their doors to take part in celebrating Semana Santa.
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5. Barefooted women in black dresses and hooded men are symbols of Holy Week in Spain.
If you search for photos of Semana Santa, you’ll likely come across the Mujeres de la Mantilla (women in the veil) and the Nazarenos (men of Nazareth).
During the processions, young girls and women known as the Mujeres de Mantilla wear somber black clothing and lace head coverings to mourn the suffering of Christ. These women have inspired works by Francisco de Goya and are a symbol of femininity in Spain.
The Nazarenos, a brotherhood group, lead the processions in silence, often without shoes, and wearing large capes and hoods that cover their faces. Customarily, the Nazarenos wear colors belonging to their brotherhood and location and often carry candles or lanterns.
6. Andalusia is home to the most significant celebrations.
If you’re headed south for Easter, be sure to pack comfortable shoes because some celebrations last up to 16 hours!
In Seville, Malaga, Granada, and Cordóba, you can see some of the most elaborate displays of art and the biggest celebrations in the country. Residents go all out when designing their floats for parades, and their effort certainly shows.
Here, you’ll see stars singing saetas from balconies, musical groups playing the bugle and drums through the streets, and residents adorning the outside of their homes with beautiful decorations.
7. Famous Flamenco singers are invited to perform.
During a moment in the procession, the streets go quiet as everyone turns their attention to a spotlit balcony in anticipation of the Saeta—a sad type of religious song that mourns the suffering of Christ.
The saeta is typically sung a cappella by a professional flamenco singer wearing the traditional black clothing of the Mujeres de Mantilla. Its musical style is similar to some kinds of Flamenco folklore.
Since the songs involve complex singing techniques and are incredibly hard to master, receiving an invitation to sing the saeta is a great honor. Even famous Spanish celebrities like Antonio Banderas come to witness the unique talent.
8. Catalonians celebrate Semana Santa with skeletons.
While most parts of the country spend Maundy Thursday recreating scenes of the Last Supper, in the region of Catalonia, you’ll find lively performances called the Dance of Death (Danza de la Muerte).
A group of five skeletons performs the dance number. One carries a scythe that reads ‘death forgives no one’ while another waves a flag with the inscription “life can be short.”
The Catalonians have celebrated this tradition since the Middle Ages to recognize the inevitability of death.
9. Traditional Semana Santa desserts were originally used in postpartum recovery.
Torrijas, a dessert similar to American French toast, are a delicious delicacy enjoyed by Spanish families throughout the country.
But did you know that around 1600, torrijas were given to new mothers to help with their recovery? Some speculate this was due to meat shortages, while others claim torrijas are simply easier to digest.
Whatever the case, the dessert evolved to be a popular staple during the 20th century in the taverns of Madrid and continues in popularity today.
If you’re visiting Spain during Semana Santa, you’ll likely be able to find fresh torrijas in local bakeries and restaurants.
10. Sacred Hearts are an important symbol of Semana Santa in Spain.
One of the most well-known symbols you’ll find throughout Semana Santa celebrations is that of the Sacred Heart, el sagrado corazón.
The Sacred Heart has been depicted in art for centuries, and you’ll find the image of a glowing heart wrapped in thorns on clothes, banners, and figurines. The symbol captures the life, love, and sacrifice of Christ.
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Semana Santa is one of the most important festivals in Spain, but that is just part of what makes the holiday so important. Did you know they also celebrate Semana Santa in Latin American countries?
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Our certified teachers provide flexible scheduling and can prepare you with the Spanish skills you need to pack your bags and head to Spain for Semana Santa!Sign up for a free trial class today!
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