This Easter is the first since 2006 that I don’t celebrate it in Spain with O’s family. Easter is very important in Spain and not for the chocolate, Easter eggs and Easter bunnies, but for religious reasons. It doesn’t actually seem like they have any special food traditions surrounding the holiday, or at least not in O’s region (or family), unlike many other countries where Easter is more about the food than anything else.
The almond trees are always in bloom for Easter
La Semana Santa, or the Holy week, starts with Palm Sunday – at least that’s what we call it in Sweden, which I all of a sudden remembered when O told me what we had to do: the Sunday before Easter is celebrated as it was the day Jesus rode to Jerusalem on a donkey, and the people were holding (or laying down, can’t remember now) palm leaves to celebrate that the king had arrived.
In O’s town* the tradition is to walk to the chapel above the town and pick up a blessed olive branch from the priest. The olive branch is replacing the palm leaf, and is supposed to keep the family and house from harm during the year – O’s mother puts it in front of one of the windows of the house. Afterwards the whole village walks to the church where a mass is held. The first time O and I went to church he told me to be quiet… I didn’t understand what he meant, but he explained that I shouldn’t do any protesting – seeing that I am a protestant! I hope that he was joking 😉
The most important part of the Easter celebrations during Semana Santa are the processions, these take place during several of the days leading up to the main procession on Good Friday. The most famous processions take place in the south of Spain in towns such as Malaga where Antonio Banderas took part in a procession this week, however even in O’s small town the processions are impressive. Actually the village didn’t use to organise these Easter events until a few years ago when it was decided to invest in the different costumes and instruments, and to organise a proper Semana Santa celebration. I guess that one of the reasons was to create a community spirit among the inhabitants.
The processions are divided into different groups – each group has a special outfit and play either the drums or use a strange instrument formed as a cross (see below) which makes a rasping noise. The different groups are also carrying different big statues – of Jesus, the Virgin etc. Most participants cover their faces in order to be anonymous – it is supposed to be an honour to take part in a procession but people should not be proud and show off, therefore the anonymity.
Good Friday procession
For a Swede it is very exotic to experience these celebrations, I noticed last year that many drummers were banging their drums so hard that they were bleeding! O explained that it is a matter of showing their commitment, and that they are suffering just like Jesus – but he added, in the end it is just a way to show off… The celebrations in O’s village are very somber affairs with people walking to the rhythm of the solemn drums but at the same time it is a community event. The majority of the people walk behind the procession, while some choose to stand by the side of the street looking at the parade going by.
On Good Friday there is a procession early in the morning at dawn, I have never participated in it (I am excused as a protestant, and have continued sleeping…) but I have heard people walk past the house singing psalms. This morning procession re-enacts the Stations of the Cross when Jesus was walking on the so-called Via Dolorosa, carrying the cross to the Crucifixion. The stations represent the different events during the walk such as when Jesus dropped the cross, asked for water etc. In the evening there is a last procession before mass.
The first year I celebrated Easter with O’s family they asked me how we celebrate the holiday in Sweden. Hm… what do we actually do except paint eggs, maybe eat some lamb and chocolate?? In the end I simply said that we don’t do processions, which was a good enough answer I think. Last year O’s mother got an Easter egg full of chocolate for the first time, unfortunately not from me since I couldn’t find any in Brussels but from O’s brother’s German girlfriend who happens to live in Stockholm. She and I explained that we eat chocolate in our countries for Easter… Different traditions in different countries 🙂
*) I call it a village as it only has 3000 inhabitants.
NB. I am not trying to be an expert on Semana Santa processions or religion, so please correct me if I am wrong…