Easter also means “Cuaresma” and “Semana Santa”
As you should already know, most Spanish speaking countries are catholic and they have several festivities associated with Christianity. On one of the latest entries, we spoke about Carnival and its etymology and this week we will deal with Cuaresma (Lent), Semana Santa (Holy Week) and Pascua (Easter).
The “Cuaresma” period comes after Carnival and starts on the fortieth day before Easter (Pascua). The word is derived from the Latin Quadragesima (dies), which means ‘fortieth (day)’ as it begins on that day. The Semana Santa, literally ‘Holy Week’, is the Easter Week. It starts on Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday) and ends on Domingo de Pascua (Easter Sunday) so it is actually a special week as it has eight days, not seven.
The Cuaresma starts on Miércoles de Ceniza (Ash Wednesday), day on which, ashes are imposed on the foreheads of the faithful as a remainder of human mortality. The ashes used are typically gathered from the burning of the palms from the previous year’s Domingo de Ramos.
Cuaresma, Semana Santa and Easter are truly breathtaking celebrations in Spain and Latin America. They arean amazing display of tradition, music, culture and religion. If you want to broaden your vocabulary and know more about the Spanish way of thinking and living, you better consider spending Semana Santa in a Spanish-speaking country.
In Spain, for instance, you can go to a procesión (procession, parade) and see the penitentes (people doing penitence for their sins) walking through streets with capirotes (pointed hats). Please do not freak out, Spain’s penitentes have nothing to do with the Ku Klux Klan. That explain why the guy on the picture below is laughing, not running away.
An interesting characteristic of all processions are the pasos, an image or set of images set atop a moveable float of wood. Seville (Spain), for instance, has a peculiar style of marching of the pasos. A team of men, the costaleros (literaly ‘sack men’, for their distinctive headdress), supporting the beams upon their shoulders and necks, lift, move and lower the paso. Although Semana Santa is a period of penance and contrition, depending on the city or town you are and on the local traditions, the pasos can be somewhat merry at some places, like this one in Murcia. If you can’t recognize the song, maybe this can refresh your mind.
In terms of gastronomy, the Semana Santa won’t disappoint you. Even though the diet of those days is based on pescado (fish) and different types of sopa (soup), desserts include arroz con leche (rice pudding), buñuelos (fritters), torrijas (slices of bread, soaked in milk or wine with honey and spices, dipped in egg and fried with olive oil) and pestiños (pieces of dough, deep fried in olive oil and glazed with honey or sugar), among others.
Please don’t think everything is different in Spanish-speaking countries. Even though it is an imported tradition, some countries do have huevos de Pascua [Easter eggs] and conejo de Pascua [Easter Bunny] either because it was introduced by German immigrants or due to a well-done marketing campaign.
If you happen to go to Paraguay for Easter you will see one of the strangest Easter traditions: Easter spanking. Although not that visible anymore, some families still practice this old custom. Basically, it consists on the following: parents Easter-bless their children (doing the signal of the cross and saying “feliz Pascua” and then slap them on their buttocks. Wondering why would they do that? Well, it may sound a bit absurd but it is due to the fact that starting on Holy Thursday, the faithful couldn’t yield at their children or spank them for mischief making so they had to wait until Sunday. The tradition is still visible in primary school patios on Easter Monday and the act of spanking is referred to as pascuar and the children who have been spanked as pascuados. If you are a bit cheeky you may try and slap some ‘cheeks’ but be careful, some may not like it and only God knows where they may slap you back.
There are many more things you can see and eat on Spanish-speaking countries but aren’t mentioned here. In any case, whatever your Easter destination will be, ¡buen viaje y felices pascuas!
Words related to Cuaresma, Semana Santa and Pascua include: Miércoles de Ceniza (Ash Wednesday), Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday), Jueves Santo (Maundy/Holy Thursday), Viernes Santo (Good/Holy Friday), ayuno (fast, think of desayuno and breakfast), crucifijo (crucifix), procesiones (processions, parades) pescado (fish, as you are allowed only fish on Fridays), sopa (soup), buñuelos (fritters) and many other food specialties.
Remember that the -ma group is a tricky one as words with this ending can be either masculine or feminine. Cuaresma is among the feminine words, along with cama (bed), forma (form), dama (lady), fama (fame), alma (soul), rama (branch), pluma (feather), firma (signature), crema (cream) and broma (joke).
The most common masculine words include problema (problem), tema (theme), poema (poem), drama (drama), idioma (language, not idiom), sistema (system), clima (climate), enigma (enigma), esquema (outline) and diagram (diagram).