Easter Traditions in Spain: Semana Santa
Although Barcelona isn’t known for celebrating Easter as extravagantly as some of the other cities in Spain, they do host their own special services and processions for Semana Santa (Holy Week), which are exciting to watch. Most of the activities take place near the Barcelona Cathedral in the city’s Gothic Quarter. Here are a few Easter traditions you can take part in or watch.
‘Domingo de Ramos’ – Celebrating Palm Sunday
On the Sunday before Easter, stalls are setup throughout the city where palm fronds and olive branches can be purchased. Some are woven and those given to children are adorned with sweets and little toys. A short procession ends in front of the Barcelona Cathedral, where the crowd holds up their palm fronds and waits to be blessed with holy water. Special Sunday masses are held at the cathedrals throughout the city.
Las Monas de Pascua
Las Monas are carefully shaped chocolate sculptures, which are sometimes painted or in the shape of large hollow eggs. These special treats are given to children by their godfather on Easter Sunday and eaten on Lunes de Pascua, Easter Monday, which is a public holiday throughout the country. Adults always remember their favorite mona creation they received when they were a child. It’s entertaining just to look at the creations in the bakery windows, which range from plain eggs or animals to Elsa and her castle.
Processions begin in the afternoon or evening and end late into the night on Good Friday. The pasos, statues of wood, silver and gold depicting scenes from the Passion or the Virgin Mary weigh over two tons (2,000 kgs)! The statues are carried on the shoulders of the costaleros, who must support an average of 110 pounds (50 kgs) each over the course of the sometimes eight hour long procession. The costaleros move forward extremely slowly, one step at a time in tune with the musicians playing behind them until they are ordered to take a moment to rest.
Other members of the brotherhood, Nazarenos, will be dressed in traditional attire, with long cloaks, gloves and pointed masks, so only their eyes are shown. They usually carry tall candles, staffs or crosses. During the procession, saetas are sung by a few onlookers from their balconies above. These songs, sung a cappella are supposed to be spontaneous and heartfelt, proving the singers devotion to the religion. I haven’t seen a saeta performed, but they are an important part of the procession in the South of Spain in cities famous for their Semana Santa traditions like Sevilla.
What’s open? Things to do over Semana Santa in Barcelona
Many businesses including some restaurants will be closed on Good Friday, Sunday and Monday. All supermarkets will be closed for these day as well, except for a few Condis stores and corner shops but they usually don’t sell meat. Here’s a few things you can do during the holidays:
- Head to the Beach – Barceloneta or nearby Sitges (40 minutes by train)
- Take a walk through el Gótico or el Born districts
- Visit the Montjuic fountains and view from the National Museum of Catalan Art
- See some of the main tourist sights from the outside – Sagrada Familia, Casa Batlló, La Pedrera, Arc de Triomf and Ciutadella Park, or Torre Agbar
- Go shopping at La Roca outdoor outlet mall, which is open during Easter and on Sundays (30-40 minutes from Barcelona)