One quirky little thing you will notice walking around Barcelona are dried woven leaves hanging from the balconies. What are these brown husks and why are they here? It is all related to the Easter holidays. Read on to learn about these traditions during Easter in Barcelona and what to do at this special time.
Easter traditions in Barcelona
Don’t be surprised to see children proudly clutching their palm leaves on this day, a week before Easter. They have been given to them by their godparents. Boys receive tall palms (palmónes) and girls intricately woven palms (palmas). The weave is quite beautiful and takes a lot of skills to create. If you want to buy one, go to the market stands outside the Cathedral, Sagrada Familia or on Rambla Catalunya.
You will notice crowds patiently waiting around churches for the priest to come out during the service and bless the tall strands. It is in memory of the hoards lining Jesus’ path with palm leaves on his entry to Jerusalem, a week before his death. At the end of the day, some people will leave their palm leaves somewhere (i.e. the balcony) to dry out for almost a year. Then, after carnival, on Ash Wednesday, they are all burnt and the priest uses the ashes to draw a cross on your forehead, marking the start of lent.
Easter Parades in Barcelona
While in the city, you might stumble across a group of strange men wearing long robes with pointed hoods that only have 2 holes for eyes. Don’t despair, you have not run into a modern day Ku Klux Klan, although it is also a brotherhood. You are witnessing an Easter parade Spanish style. Normally dressed devotees, as well as fully costumed brotherhoods and religious societies, participate in the procession. Heavy floats of religious figures are carried through the streets.
In Barcelona, many citizens head out of the city for the long weekend and the parades are very moderate compared to other places in Andalucía. However, if you are looking for a taste of the South, my advice is to go to the nearby town of L’Hospitalet. Many people from Andalucía arrived to Barcelona looking for work in the 1960s and a large community set up in this neighbourhood. In 1977, perhaps in a fit of homesickness, they started their own parade home style. It’s called 15+1 and it is definitely different to the more reserved city centre ones if this is what you are looking for. Easter parades happen on Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
Mona de Pascua
If visiting during Easter, take a peek at some of the beautiful chocolate window displays of the bakeries. This cake is called Mona de Pascua. Pascua means Easter and Mona is the Moroccan word for gift. Again, it is the godparents who give this cake to the children on Easter Monday. Traditional monas were round with hard boiled eggs in them. Each egg represents a year of the child’s life from 2 to 12 years old (the traditional age of first communion). Some say that, because meat and eggs were banned for 40 days during lent, people saved up eggs to make these extra rich treats. Eggs are the most important element of Easter in many places around Europe because they are part of the symbolism related to the arrival of spring and the fertility rituals.
Nowadays, this delicacy has evolved and can have quite intricate chocolate creations adorning it. Fillings of crème brûlée, chocolate, cream or butter. Decorations of chocolate eggs, little chicks made out of felt and goose feathers dyed in vivid colours. Adorning the cakes you can get small houses, foot balls and the faces of the most popular cartoon characters. Whatever suits the godchild. For those of you who don’t have a sweet tooth, you will be relieved to read a traditional mona does not have to be sweet. It can also be eaten with savoury products, such as llonganissa or other cured meats.
La Colmena, where we usually start our dedicated tour for families with kids, is one of the oldest city bakeries and its window display is gorgeous. It takes me quite a while to move my young clients on to the next stop! However, for the best displays, head to the famous Escribà headquarters in Eixample. If you decide to buy this traditional dessert, note that it is given on Easter Sunday and consumed on Easter Monday.
Practical advice for visitors during Easter in Barcelona
Because it is a long holiday weekend, many locals will head outside the city for a mini-break. On the other hand, many tourist (Spanish and foreign) will be pouring into Barcelona for their vacation so be prepared for lots of visitors. Queues for attractions will be very long so be fairly organized and pre-book your tickets online to avoid the long waits. If planning to shop, be aware that shops are closed on Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday. Some museums might have half day timetables so my advice is to check their official web page for opening hours if planning to go inside. Have a nice Easter in Barcelona!
Looking for more things to do during Easter in Barcelona? You can join one of our two daily Free Walking Tours: the medieval Gothic Quarter for history buffs and the Gaudí tour for architecture lovers. If you are in the city for a few more days, check our recommendations for activities in Barcelona during April.
Post updated in March 2020
Main photograph: Easter Parade by Sergio Uceda.