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Semana Santa: Vocabulary for Spanish Easter Traditions

written by: Finn Orfano • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 3/26/2013

Easter, Lent, Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday are important religious holidays in Spain. Learn vocabulary surrounding these holidays and the food and traditions that surround them.

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    Semana Santa


    Easter is preceded by 40 days of Lent in which many participate in fasting. Here are the words for the most important days:

    Semana Santa - Holy Week

    Pascua - Easter

    Felices Pascuas - Happy Easter

    La cuaresma - Lent

    Miercoles de ceniza - Ash Wednesday

    Jueves Santo - Holy Thursday

    Viernes Santo - Good Friday

    Domingo de Palmera - Palm Sunday

    Ash Wednesday

    The entire time up to Easter is marked by religious traditions. On Ash Wednesday, Catholics go to church to repent from their sins and get an ash cross marked on their forehead.

    Iglesia - church

    Ceniza - ash

    cruz - cross

    El cura - priest

    La vela - candle

    Palm Sunday

    The Sunday before Easter is known as Palm Sunday. This marks Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem before his death. It is also the occasion when many Catholic children receive their frist communion.

    Primera comunion - First communion

    On that day and in many regions of Spain, processions take to the street, people carrying palm branches which are often decorated with flowers, bows or tinsel. They also sometimes carry a statue of the Virgin Mary.

    La hoja - leaf

    La palmera - palm tree

    La Dolorosa - Weeping Virgin Mary

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    Throughout Semana Santa, the hundreds of religious brotherhoods which exist in Spain play an important role.

    Hermandad - brotherhood

    Cofradia - brotherhood

    Corporacion - brotherhood

    The brotherhood consists of male members of a particular parish. Their purpose is to re-enact a specific theme related to the sufferings of Christ duing their highly emotional processions through the streets of their town at semana santa.

    Procesion - procession

    According to their chosen theme, they wear specific cloaks and hoods and carry statues of Christ or the Virign Mary. Some, who commemorate the suffering of the Lord during his way to the cross, carry whips or chains and even flay themselves to do penitence.

    Flagelar - flog

    Cadenas - chains

    Capucha - hood

    Estandarta - flag

    Very well known in the region of Valencia is

    La Hermandad de Buena Muerte - Brotherhood of Holy Death

    Its members consist exclusivley of retired or active members of the legion (Legion de Honor)

    La legion - the legion

    La legion is considered as the bravest and toughest part of the Spanish military.

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    The processions take place at night, accompanied by drums and lighted by torches.

    Por la noche - at night

    La tombona - drum

    La torcha - torches

    It is a totally fascinating, solemn and emotional experience, for participants and spectators alike.

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    Easter Meal

    Once Lent or cuaresma is over, a time during which Catholics are not supposed to eat meat and generally fast, it's time for a sumptuous Easter Meal and celebrations.

    Ayunar - to fast

    Celebrar - to celebrate

    As Easter is the ime of year when lambs are born, the traditional main course consists of lamb.

    Cordero asado - roasted lamb

    Chuleta de cordero - lamb chop

    Pierna de cordero - leg of lamb

    Costilla de cordeo - rib of lamb

    What's for Dinner?

    The meat is prepared with lots of garlic and spices.

    Ajo - garlic

    Cebolla - onion

    Salsa - gravy

    Vegetables to go with it are mostly green.

    Judias verdes - green beans

    Espinachas - spinach

    Alcachofas - artichokes

    Ensalada verde - green salad

    Ensalada mixta - mixed tomatoe, lettuce and cucumber salad

    Apetizers are often seafood.

    Tapas variadas - mixed apetizers


    Of course, an important meal needs to be rounded off with a delicious desert. Typical for Spain are the following:

    el postre - desert

    Crema Catalana - a soft lemon flavored custard

    Arroz con leche - rice pudding

    Flan de huevo - egg pudding

    Flan de vanilla - vanille pudding


    All accompanied with copious amounts of red wine.

    Vino tinto - red wine

    Rioja - best region for red wine

    una copa de vino - a glass of wine

    un trago - a sip

    I hope you get the chance to practice Spanish in Spain and experience a traditional Easter celebration!