Seven surprisingly strange traditions celebrated at Easter in Spain

Seven surprisingly strange traditions celebrated at Easter in Spain
Spanish actor Antonio Banderas takes part in the “Lagrimas y Favores” (Tears and Favours) brotherhood Palm Sunday procession in Malaga. Photo: Jorge Guerrero / AFP

Pardoning prisoners, dressing up as skeletons, “killing Jews” and just what are those white pointy hats about? We reveal all…


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.
Deadly dancing 
Photo: dantzan/Flickr
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.
Hoods and hats
Photo: Cristina Quicler/AFP
The long conical hats worn by the members of some brotherhoods during Spain’s Easter celebrations have nothing to do with the Ku Klux Klan. Instead, they originate in the hats worn by people found guilty of religious crimes in the Spanish Inquisition. Those criminals would walk the streets in the hats while they were mocked and insulted by the crowds. By donning the hats in Spain’s Easter celebrations, penitents are also re-enacting Christ’s road to Calvary.
Get out of jail free card
Photo: PJcross/Depositphotos
If you’re Catholic and in jail in Spain, you might just be in luck. In 1759, a riot broke out in a Malaga prison after inmates found out Easter processions would be cancelled due to a plague outbreak. They forced their way out, carried Jesus’ image through the streets and then miraculously returned to their cells. King Charles III was so impressed that from that day on he decided to free two dozen jailbirds every Easter. The tradition lives on to this day.
Enter the turbos
Photo: Pedro Armestre/AFP
Christian traditions take a turn for the surreal in the city of Cuenca when participants in the ‘Road to Calvary’ procession mock Jesus on his way to the cross. The turbos, as they are known, are meant to represent the Jews present during Christ’s death sentence and ensuing crucifixion. For twelve hours, they jostle the nazarenos, or penitents, and prevent them from carrying Jesus’s image through the streets.
Crucifixion trek
Photo: Pedro Armestre/AFP
Although not quite as bloody as the ones seen in some parts of South America, Taking part in a Valverde de la Veras’ ‘Via Crucis’ is far from being pain-free. Participants, known as empalaos, have their bodies tightly strapped to a wooden cross with rope and then walk barefoot through the town streets for hours, their faces always covered with a veil. Their march represents the 14 stations of the cross, symbolizing Christ carrying the cross to his crucifixion.

Published by CityFella

Big city fella, Born and Raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. Lived in New York (a part time New Yorker) for three years . I have lived in the Sacramento area since 1993. When I first moved here, I hated it. Initially found the city too conservative for my tastes. A great place to raise children however too few options for adults . The city has grown up, there is much to do here. The city suffers from low self esteem in my opinion, locals have few positive words to say about their hometown. visitors and transplants are amazed at what they find here. From, the grand old homes in Alkali Flats, and the huge trees in midtown, there are many surprises in Sacramento. Theater is alive is this area . And finally ,there is a nightlife... In.downtown midtown, for the young and not so young. My Criticism is with local government. There is a shortage of visionaries in city hall. Sacramento has long relied on the state, feds and real estate for revenue. Like many cities in America,Downtown Sacramento was the hub of activity in the area. as the population moved to the suburbs and retail followed. The city has spent millions to revive downtown. Today less than ten thousand people live downtown. No one at city hall could connect the dots. Population-Retail. Business says Sacramento is challenging and many corporations have chosen to set up operations outside the cities limits. There is vision in the burbs. Sacramento has bones, there are many good pieces here, leaders seem unable or unwilling to put those pieces together into. Rant aside, I love it here. From the trees to the rivers. But its the people here that move me. Sacramento is one of the most integrated cities in America. I find I'm welcome everywhere. The spices work in this city of nearly 500,000 and for the most part these spices blend well together. From Ukrainians to Hispanics and a sizable gay community, all the spices seem to work well here. I frequently travel and occasionally I will venture into a city with huge racial borders, where its unsafe to visit after certain hours. I haven't found it here. I cant imagine living in a community where there is one hue or one spice. I love the big trees, Temple Coffee House, the Alhambra Safeway, Zelda's Pizza, Bicyclist in Midtown, The Mother Lode Saloon, Crest Theater, and the Rivers. I could go on and I might. Sacramento is home.

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