Few people celebrate Easter like the Spanish. It’s an institution. Known as Semana Santa (pronounce sarnta, not like Santa Claus!), it’s a full week of celebrations, parades and customs officially beginning on the Sunday before Easter and finishing the Saturday before Easter day. In 2020, Good Friday occurs on 10 April.
The predominant activity of Semana Santa is the traditional parades, or penance processions, through the streets with an accompaniment of drums and trumpets, making for a visual and aural feast. These processions are performed by brotherhoods and fraternities, most of which were formed in the middle ages. Each brotherhood takes their role in these processions very seriously and they are a very pious affair.
While each region of Spain has their own particular customs during the week, these processions are ubiquitous and occur in basically every city or town. Obviously the size varies depending on location, with the more spectacular ones happening in places like Leon and Santiago. Carrying traditional floats, or pasos, artfully crafted and depicting various biblical scenes pertaining to Christ or the Virgin Mary, the brethren are cheered on by the adoring crowds as they snake their way around the city streets. In some cases, these pasos have been meticulously preserved and been paraded yearly for centuries.
The other standard throughout Spain is the wearing of the traditional robes or nazareno. Consisting of a full-length tunic and sometimes a robe, they are topped off with a tall hood that covers the face. Upon first viewing of these traditional outfits many visitors are taken aback due to their striking resemblance to the outfits worn by the Ku Klux Klan in America. Rest assured, any resemblance is purely coincidental!
If you find yourself in Spain during this colourful and vibrant festival, you might want to aim to be in Leon for part of it at least, as I was fortunate enough to be in 2017. The people of the province of Leon y Castile celebrate this important week with particular verve, with some 15,000 penitents involved in their parades. They actually begin processions on the Friday before Semana Santa even officially begins, with the final parade being on Easter Sunday.
One custom particular to the city of Leon is the parade known as Entierro de Genarín or the Burial of Genarin. A destitute alcoholic, Genarin was run over and killed by the first rubbish truck on the streets of Leon on Easter Thursday, 1929. This dedicated parade weaves its way through the streets of Leon with the local brandy known as Orujo proudly displayed at its head in tribute of the fallen itinerant.
This week-long celebration is definitely worth considering in your plans for walking the Camino, but it’s not the only advantage to walking at this time of year. Being the start of spring, the weather is mostly mild and sunny without the extreme temperatures of the June-August period or the extreme cold of the November-February period. It also doesn’t have the extreme numbers of pilgrims at this time as it’s earlier in the season. Numbers do swell for the Easter week itself but nothing compared to the middle of the year.
Planning your trip
Many hotels close over the northern hemisphere winter period with many not opening till 1st April so if you want to experience this enchanting festival in April 2020 we strongly recommend booking this October to ensure access to our preferred properties.
If you are thinking about incorporating Easter into your itinerary but want to go in 2021, there are two things to be aware of. Firstly, 2021 is a Holy year. This is a rare occurrence with the last one being in 2010 and the number of pilgrims swells exponentially. The other factor is that Easter is earlier in March in 2021 which makes it both colder and more difficult to find open hotels.
By booking your 2020 Camino experience in the next few weeks you will also be able to take advantage of early-bird airfares to Europe.
- View our Camino de Santiago trips and call us on (03) 5976 3763 or email [email protected] to find out more.
Take advantage of this great incentive and go and witness this profound celebration of the life of Christ for yourself. What are you waiting for?