Easter week is celebrated in Spain like nowhere else on earth, and Spaniards take their Holy Week traditions very seriously, even if some of them – to the outsider – seem a little bit bonkers.
From the Catalan town where residents dress up as skeletons to the practice of freeing two dozen inmates from prison every Easter, Spain has its share of surprisingly strange Holy Week activities.
The Easter lemonade drink know as “matar Judíos”. Photo: Tamorlan via Wikimedia Commons
One of Spain’s most unusual Easter celebrations is held in the town of Bierzo in León. If you are ever around that way during Holy Week you might be surprised to hear people saying “let’s go kill the Jews” – “salir a matar Judíos” – as they knock back glasses of special wine-lemonade.
The common story for how this tradition started is that back in the 14th century, a nobleman named Suero de Quiñones owed money to a Jewish lender. But instead of paying it off, he rallied others against the Jews, saying that they had killed Jesus. Between Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, Quiñones and his supporters stormed the Jewish quarter and killed many people, including the money lender.
To celebrate the massacre, Quiñones and his group drank wine, beginning the start of the tradition that still exists today in the name of the Holy Week drink.
While most of Spain holds traditional Maundy Thursday processions, the Catalan town of Verges (Girona) sees five of its residents, including three children, dress up in skeleton costumes, carry Death’s sickle and dance around the streets to the sound of drums. It resembles other ‘danse macabre’ celebrations across Europe, all of which have been around since medieval times to remind us that no matter one’s station in life, the Dance of Death unites all.
Pub crawl procession
Photo: Oviraptor / wikipedia
In 1929, a well-known character in the northern Spanish city of León was run over by a rubbish truck while he was relieving himself at the city walls. His name was Genaro Blanco, a bon-vivant who loved his prostitutes almost as much as his liquor. His mourning drinking buddies decided to pay tribute to him on Maundy Thursday, the anniversary of his death. Year after year, more followers have joined Genarín’s bar-hopping pagan procession, the record being 15.000 in 2005.