Semana Santa – Easter in Northern Spain

In Spain; Easter and Semana Santa are a big celebration

Semana Santa in Leon Spain
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Good Friday in Leon Spain, Semana Santa

The holy week, the week just before Easter or Semana Santa as they say in Spain, is the most important religious event for Catholics. Easter in Spain last for 2 weeks and what we think about as Easter is called the quiet week; Semana Pascua. To day it is most common to call the whole Easter celebration for Semana Santa. The origin for the Semana Santa processions in Catholic countries is purely educational. In the 1600`s the church decided that the best way to learn the common people about Christ and his life was through processions through the streets with figures and tableaux telling stories from the life of Jesus.

These processions are still walking in the narrow streets of most Spanish towns during Easter. The most famous is probably the processions in Seville in Andalusia. In 2002 we travelled in a motorhome through Spain and experienced many different ways to celebrate Semana Santa. Every city had its own traditions and every day in Easter had its own rules and stories to tell. We have always wanted to go back to Spain and once again take part in this celebration. And this Easter we went back and joined the fantastic Semana Santa celebration in Northern Spain this time with a start in Bilbao. Unfortunately, they had to cancel Semana Santa processions many places because of the weather. It was splashing with rain and rain and rain . .

Easter celebration – Semana Santa – does not resemble anything like our celebration with Easter eggs, chickens and Easter bunnies or skiing in the mountains like the Norwegians love to do this time of year. Spaniards` celebrations are filled with passion and sorrow, but also unrestrained joy. The most important element in the celebration is the processions with figures and tableaux from the life of Jesus. These figures are placed on floats carried by strong men. The processions are like penances and shows Jesus life leading to his crucifixion. There are many ways to share the sufferings of Christ; some whips them while they are walking barefoot through the streets. Others are carrying heavy crosses or crawl on their knees through the whole procession and they do some times last for hours.

Palm Sunday in Santander Spain, Semana Santa
Palm Sunday in Santander Spain, Semana Santa

Each church has its own floats with figures so a city can have many processions every day. The floats are decorated with velvet, lace and glitter, flowers and a lot of light. People gather behind the floats dressed in long capes with the scaring hoods we associate with completely different things. But these hoods represent a very old tradition and have nothing to do with Klu Klux Klan. Covered with a hood you can do your penance anonymous.

We also visited Seville in 2002, but it was in the small city Dos Hermanas we experienced the highlight of Semana Santa. They had their own Semana Santa procession and no tourists. Both grown ups and children were attending the procession with hoods in all colors. The gravity we experienced in Seville was totally absent. It was just a big public celebration that started in the afternoon and ended three o`clock in the morning. We joined the procession and the celebrations the whole day, only with a break for supper.

Palm Sunday this year in Northern Spain started with heavy clouds but no rain. Some hours later we even got a glimpse of sun. We went to the city of Santander and got to see the Semana Santa processions there. It was daytime and many children participated with plastic palm leaves. The figures on the float showed Jesus one a donkey riding in to Jerusalem. Palm Sunday is a happy day and there were no hoods in the procession.

Good Friday in leon Spain, Semana Santa
Good Friday in leon Spain, Semana Santa

Some days later on Good Friday we was in the city of Leon. The first procession of the day was interrupted by heavy rain and the procession backed away to the big white tents where they keep the floats these Easter days. But in the evening the weather cleared up and a new procession could slowly walk through the narrow streets. Good Friday is no happy day and the processions are characterized by gloom and seriousness. Every float is telling the story of crucifixion. Behind the float with Jesus on the cross, three women are walking dressed in a traditional black Spanish widow outfit. The music is heavy and suffering. The drums present a grim echo in narrow streets with the crowds standing on both sides.

The Spanish love their Semana Santa processions and it looks like everyone is turning up to participate or just look. Everyone takes pictures or videos and as a tourist you feel welcome and no one has any reactions when we also take pictures of everyone. Despite Good Friday the mood is high in bar we are sitting in. Here we have a perfect view and can go in and out as we please, taking photos. Inside people are drinking and eating, but they also are going in and out taking pictures and commenting the procession.

The procession ends near midnight and nightlife has just begun. Everyone seems to be out this evening. There are children everywhere. No rules here about children not having access to bars serving alcohol.

Good Friday in Leon Spain, Semana Santa
Good Friday in Leon Spain, Semana Santa
Mass for women in Viveiro Spain, Semana Santa
Mass for women in Viveiro Spain, Semana Santa
Palm Sunday in Santander Spain, Semana Santa
Palm Sunday in Santander Spain, Semana Santa
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