In Barcelona, Christmas is amazing; New Year’s dazzles. But the truly unforgettable holiday isn’t just one day—it’s eight! Easter in Spain stretches from Palm Sunday to Easter Monday, covering over a week. While there aren’t many Easter egg hunts or Cadbury crème treats, the predominantly catholic country celebrates the death and resurrection of Jesus with a weeklong series of parades, parties, and fun. While it’s true that the most famous celebration takes place down south in Sevilla, Barcelona celebrates in style with traditions dating back hundreds of years! No matter your religious affiliation, Semana Santa—or “Holy Week”—is an incredible cultural experience packed with amazing (and delicious) customs.
Domingo de Ramos (or Diumenge de Rams in Catalan) is the Sunday one week prior to Easter, also known as Palm Sunday. It commemorates the day Jesus returned to Jerusalem, riding on the back of a donkey while his waving admirers laid down their clothes—and palm fronds—to make a path. In Barcelona, this day is celebrated with a procession known as “El Paso de la Borriquita,” or “the path of the little donkey.” It takes place in the Ciutat Vella, the “old town” of Barcelona. Citizens buy palm fronds and take to the streets to enjoy a parade with floats, music, and actors dressed in traditional costumes. If you happen to be in Barcelona for the Domingo de Ramos, the procession is absolutely a must-see! The crowd’s electric energy is infectious—before you know it, you’ll be moving right along with them, swept up in their enthusiasm.
While processions are exciting, there are other, quieter traditions associated with Palm Sunday. If you’re a godparent in Barcelona, then your holiday comes with a special responsibility: godmothers purchase “palmas y palmones” to give to their godchildren. Palmas, for the girls, are handcrafted ornaments made out of dried palm fronds, and palmones, for the boys, are very long dried palm fronds. In a special procession, a priest blesses the ornaments. Traditionally, these are burned and scattered among crops to ensure they will grow; now, it’s more likely that they will be hung in the home for good luck.
In Barcelona, Palm Sunday means that the party’s just getting started—festivities last until Easter a week later. During the week, the streets come alive with music, dances, and people celebrating. The famous Ramblas and el Barrio Gótico, or the Gothic Neighborhood, display this most prominently, with events happening there all week long.
On Good Friday, the procession of the Virgin of the Macarena winds down from the Sant Augustí church to the famed Barcelona Cathedral. This is an ancient procession with roots in Sevillan culture, where the original statue of the Virgin remains to this day. In Barcelona, the event is dramatic and beautiful, with people weeping and watching as members of the procession carry Mary’s statue through the city.
On Easter Sunday, all of the events over the last week come to a head in a rush of tradition and joy. Godparents come with another special set of gifts for their godchildren: “Monas de Pascua.” The phrasing is a little confusing, as “mona” normally means “female monkey,” but actually the word itself isn’t Spanish in origin. In fact, it’s believed that the word and tradition comes from Morocco, where the Arabic word “munna” translates to “mouth provisions.” This delicious slice of heaven is a special cake that over the years has evolved to include figurines, marzipan, and chocolate eggs! That’s why the Museu de la Xocolata, or Chocolate Museum, draws hundreds of curious customers during the week leading up to Easter Sunday. The Monas de Pascua are delicious, with one important caveat: they are meant to be enjoyed on Easter Monday. That’s when families get together to celebrate the end of the Easter holidays. After a long week of festivities, processions, and palm fronds, a little family time is just what the doctor ordered.
Easter in Spain is not to be missed, no matter your religious affiliation. As one of Spain’s largest and most lively cities, a Semana Santa here would certainly be unforgettable.