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Spanish Traditions for Semana Santa (Easter)

Updated: Feb 1

From what's on the street to the goodies they eat, Spain does Easter just a little bit differently than in America.

women in black walk in a procession

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These Hooded Men Are Not What You Think

royal blue hoods cover a procession of men in robes

When I think of Easter in the States I think of fluffy bunnies, egg hunts, frilly pastel-colored dresses and a Thanksgiving feast redux. In Spain - it's a different ball game. Easter Sunday is the final day of an entire week of festivities called "Semana Santa", or Holy Week. Although not the only religious happening, there's one event that takes place daily, nightly and pretty much in every corner of the big cities, and it will definitely shock the unknowing American traveler.

I was sitting inside our AirBnB, a couple years before we decided to buy an apartment in Zaragoza, and my husband was hanging off the front balcony in anticipation of some kind of evening hoopla - it was 8 oclock, the bewitching hour for tapas goers to start filling the street. Instead something else was happening.

"Come, quick!", he yelled at me, half dead on the bed after traveling all day to get there. "Quick! Quick!". I obligingly ran to the balcony to join him and saw it - a massive crowd, a parade in fact, of hooded men marching down our small alley street off Calle Coso.

Hooded drummers parade through the streets for Holy Week in Spain

Drums of war were pounding, at least that's what it sounded like to me. Rows and rows of marchers banged in procession to somewhere (presumably the Basilica), step by step bringing more folks to their balconies to watch. Here I saw the first group of many more thousands of Nazarenes, or Cofradias that I'd see that week.

a young girl in white and cream religious robing marches along with a procession of cream hooded men

For the next several days we couldn't go anywhere without being stopped or slowed down by another club or brotherhood of these men marching for the holiday.

a man's eyes pierce through a cream hood as he walks in a procession of men

Although shocking to us, knowing full well as Americans what these hoods used to signify, it's a pretty horrific sight at first.

cream hooded men march in procession

Yet as it turns out, this is a normal thing in Spain, so never fear. These men (and women) are very proud of what they do and as onlookers we must not gawk at the procession. Take it in! It's just a little different.

Move Over, French Toast

Meanwhile, for a total 180 - enjoy the foods of the season - namely, Torrijas. If ever there were anything more memorable than scary processions of drummers, it's these sugary french-toast like treats served especially for the Easter holiday in Spain.

Cinnamon sugar french toasts in Spain called torrijas
Homemade torrijas are just the ticket on Easter in Spain

Salivating just looking at these? Try them out for yourself with this recipe straight from my Spanish mother-in-law.

Torrijas Recipe

  1. Start with a loaf of old bread a couple of days old (cuban or french). You cut it into one inch slices.

  2. In a bowl mix half a gallon of milk and a tbsp of cinnamon. Maybe you need more milk and cinnamon depending on how much bread you make.

  3. In another bowl beat two whole eggs (you may need more eggs).

  4. In a deep plate you make a mixture of 2 cups of sugar and 2 tbsp of cinnamon or as you like.

  5. Heat enough oil in a pan to fry the slices.

  6. Soak the slices of bread one by one in the milk with cinnamon. You have to do this quickly, then pass them through the beaten egg and then fry them until golden brown.

  7. As you fry the slices, you pass them through the mixture of sugar and cinnamon and put them on a tray ready to eat.

Easter In Spain? It's All About the Socarrat

While you are thinking about torrijas, why not make a whole Spanish feast? Easter in Spain comes with many options for dining depending on the region, but just like turkey is a sacred staple for most of the American holidays, so is paella for the Spaniards! A special occasion meal in most homes, this well-known meal feeds many. The secret to a good paella though? The crunchy bit on the bottom of the pan called "socarrat". You'll be fighting everyone at the table for the scrapings so get ready!

A large white tablclothed table full of plates of paella and sangria
Paella is a special occasion meal on Easter

Whip up your favorite batch of seafoody goodness and impress all your friends with your knowledge of Easter in Spain. Even better, shop for some of your favorites from abroad below if you just can't find what you need nearby.

Final Thoughts

If you find yourself in Spain this Easter, be sure to look up the local events and also keep in mind that a LOT of stuff will be closed at random times and days during the Semana Santa Holy Week. I recommend you stock up on groceries and steer clear of any expectations to eat out on Good Friday or Easter Sunday.

You want to try something different this Easter holiday? Grab some seats on Iberia and experience Semana Santa the Spanish way. Ole!



Hi, I'm Maria!

Globetrotting since 1995, I'm not a digital nomad or a social influencer.

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