Easter, or Semana Santa (Holy Week) as it is referred to in Spain, is a time of reflection for many devout Catholics as they remember the Passion of the Christ with emotional processions and ceremonies. It is also a holiday time, and an opportunity to enjoy days out with the family. In Valencia, this could even be a day on the beach, taking advantage of the warm, spring weather.
Valencians are, on the whole, religious folk, which means Easter is a special time of remembrance for many. Some communities, like fishermen, have always been particularly pious, and commended themselves to their patron saint or Christ, to protect them on their daily trips out at sea.
It is no surprise, then, that it is in the seafaring districts of Cabanyal, Grau and Canyamelar that the traditional Easter celebrations are most deeply rooted, and have been preserved in what is known as Maritime Holy Week.
In these neighbourhoods you will find different cofradías or brotherhoods, each devoted to a saint. During Holy Week, they will take it in turns to host the float carrying the statue of Christ at their headquarters, after parading it through town.
The most moving procession, though, takes place on Good Friday, when all the members of the cofradías, some dressed as biblical characters, carry various floats with effigies representing the Passion of the Christ along the streets and onto the beach, to the sound of drums and bugles.
The view of hundreds of men covered in pointed hoods may look a bit sinister at first to some foreign visitors, but they only have to watch the procession for a few minutes to appreciate the deep emotion and the solemnity of the occasion.
Raining pots and petals
One of the most peculiar traditions of the Maritime Holy Week is the Trenca de Perols at midnight on the Saturday (15 April this year), when the locals throw old pots and crockery, as well as water, from their windows, as a symbol of cleansing. Watch out if you are in the area, maybe walking back to the hotel after some tapas at local bars like Casa Montaña or Casa Guillermo!
On Easter Sunday, the mood turns into one of joy, and this time it is flower petals that cover the streets as the cofradías throw flowers at the onlookers as they parade celebrating Christ’s Resurrection.
No celebration in Valencia would be complete without something to eat, and there is, of course, a traditional cake to eat on Easter Sunday: the mona de Pascua. This used to be a treat given to children by their godparents, and symbolised the end of abstinence during Lent.
The mona is a ring-shaped cake made of flour, sugar and eggs, sprinkled with coloured aniseed sweets and with a hard-boiled egg in the middle, often painted in bright colours. The tradition was for the egg to be cracked open on the forehead of a friend before sharing the cake. Nowadays, many monas have a chocolate eggs instead.
Another local specialty is the panquemao or panquemado (literally, burnt bread). Similar to the mona, these are round cakes which are basted in egg white before baking to get the deep golden colour that gives them their name, keeping a fluffy, sweet sponge inside.
Finally, there is the coca de nueces y pasas, another delicious cake with walnuts and raisins, also popular over Easter.
There is hardly a better way to celebrate Easter than sharing a cake with friends or relatives under the Valencian sun in the Turia Gardens (a very popular option amongst locals) or on the beach…