What not to miss, to expect and to do during Easter in Spain?

So, you plan to have a unique cultural experience for your Easter in Spain (Holy Week/Semana Santa). Here’s what to expect whether you are going to be in Jerez de la Fronterra or anywhere else in Spain, particularly the big towns in Andalucia this Easter week (14-21 April this year) or at some point in the future.  It’s one not to miss.

Walking alongside a hooded penitent wife, a father carries a sleeping child, after a Holy Week (Semana Santa) procession in Jerez de la Frontera, Andalucia, Spain. Location: Plaza del Banco.
Walking alongside a hooded penitent wife, a father carries a sleeping child, after a Holy Week (Semana Santa) procession in Jerez de la Frontera, Andalucia, Spain.
city center congestion

Be prepared to slow down your itinerary a bit because of what would seem like

Picture of Jesus on a adorned red platform float, wearing a purple robe with golden highlights, kneeling and carrying a cross. Semana Santa 2019 in Jerez de la Frontera.
Semana Santa 2019 in Jerez de la Frontera

endless processions during the week here in Jerez de la Frontera (and other towns in Andalucia, such as Cadiz, Seville, Granada).  The city center, particularly the old historic center (within the old walls of the city), will have more people than normal throughout the day, especially towards the evening.  During our first Semana Santa here, it took us over 3 hours to get home from the train station to our apartment in the center.  It’s a 20-minute walk normally.  We got caught up in 3 different processions snaking their way through. . .  well, everywhere.  And, with kids… a L.O.C.A. (loss of cooling accident ; )

Easter in Jerez de la Frontera, Andalucia, Spain. Hooded penitents marching down calle Larga.
Easter in Jerez de la Frontera, Andalucia, Spain. Hooded penitents marching down calle Larga.
procession of piety

There are over 40 dedicated religious fraternities here.  Each will have its group of 40 to 50 penitents, carrying a heavy load of the delicate statues of Jesus or Mary on  a heavily adorned platform on top of them.  They will be marching together one small collective step at a time through the narrow streets.  Each procession will have a pre-established route from its home parish and back that takes several hours several hours.  Some brotherhoods have full marching bands.  Others walk in absolute silence.  Some stop at pre-determined balconies to hear Saeta (a primitive religious chant that made its way into flamenco).  Others move with impromptu saeteros (singers/chanters) in the background.

A procession of piety during Holy Week (Semana Santa) along Calle Larga, Jerez de la Frontera, Spain.
A procession of piety during Holy Week (Semana Santa) along Calle Larga, Jerez.
A procession during Holy Week (Semana Santa) along Calle Pozuelo, Jerez de la Frontera, Spain. Penitents await the chanting of Saeta--a unique form of religious song about “the suffering, death, and majesty of Jesus Christ, and of the grief of the Virgin Mary”-D.E. Pohren. This is one of the primitive songs that made its way into Flamenco.
A procession during Holy Week along Calle Pozuelo, Jerez de la Frontera, Spain. Penitents await the chanting of Saeta–a unique form of religious song about “the suffering, death, and majesty of Jesus Christ, and of the grief of the Virgin Mary”-D.E. Pohren.

What’s the story with the hoods? I know.  You know. We all know the first thing that many Americans see when they look at the white hoods with conical tips… the racist hate group predominantly in southern U.S.  Here, in Spain, the tradition of penitents wearing a set of tunic, robe and hood with a pointy tip at the top dates back to the medieval ages.  The purpose was (and still is) to mask the identity of those asking for repentance or forgiveness for their sins while demonstrating their penance in public.  They come in all colors here and are quite a sight to see, especially with the religious fervor of the procession and the audience alike.

Be Flexible with your schedule.  Many tourist and public places close during this period.  Some bars/clubs will close. If they are open, the schedules are erratic.  This is Catholic Spain after all.  It’s all about Jesus and Mary this week… everywhere in Andalucia for that matter.

what else to do with kids During HOLY WEEK in Jerez, Cadiz?

The processions take over the city activities here.  Here is the schedule and itinerary of some of the processions (horarios y itinerario de semana santa) from the union of brotherhoods (Union de Hermandades de Jerez).  It is in Spanish but you can decipher where the processions and at what time and the route/stops.

A comprehensive list of Holy Week processional schedule, stops and itinerary in Jerez de la Frontera, all in one page.
A comprehensive list of Holy Week processional schedule, stops and itinerary in Jerez.

As the boys are out of school (all public schools remain closed for the Holy Week), we try to go about to see at least one procession a day for their cultural experience.  At first, we thought that it would not be interesting for them as they were only 1.5 and 5 years old then.  But they were interested. Even more so, because we tell them stories about it, even though Six is not religious.  They both also ask questions about Jesus and Mary as they see many statues of them being worshipped.  The kids like the music too.

A cross-carrying procession during Holy Week (Semana Santa) along Calle Larga, Jerez de la Frontera, Spain.

A penitent kneels during a procession during Holy Week (Semana Santa) along Calle Larga, Jerez de la Frontera, Spain.

of course, kids get bored.  So what else can you do with kids?

Playgrounds. If you want to take a break from the processions, playgrounds always buy you some time (and sanity) with the little ones.  Here are 5 of the best FREE playgrounds in Jerez de la Frontera.

Flamenco.  In this “little big” town of flamenco, sherry, fighting bulls and dancing horses, there are now FREE daily flamenco shows during the Easter Passion week.

Beach play–a favorite babysitter of this happy house husband.  The nearest one from Jerez is called Valdelagrana, about 15 minutes away by car (reachable by train with about a 15-minute walk from the station).  It’s one of the most common developed beach areas here.  Others, if you have a car is Rota, where you can see the U.S. and Spanish ships in the distant background of the naval bases.  Or Playa Muralla and Los Torunos in El Puerto de Santa Maria.  There are many others of course.

Cadiz.  Highly recommended to visit this supposedly oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe and the birthplace of modern European liberalism (or something like that).  It also has long beaches, even a playground right above a beach (Playa Santa Maria del Mar).  Cadiz is less than a 30-minute drive from Jerez (also by train that leaves every hour–schedule (or horarios in Spanish) may vary during Sundays and holidays).

Nearby “white villages“:  If you cannot get to Ronda, visit Arcos de la Frontera.  It is like a little Ronda that sits atop a fortress hill.  Medina-Sidonia was the old capitol of Cadiz province that also sits high atop a hill.  Both are quiet places that will also have processions of their own.  Be aware.

A procession of piety during Holy Week (Semana Santa) along Calle Larga, Jerez de la Frontera, Spain.
A Roman “legion” (SPQR) brotherhood’s procession of piety during Holy Week (Semana Santa) along calle Larga, Jerez de la Frontera, Spain.

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