Increasingly in the Anglo-Saxon world, Easter is exclusively the preserve of the Easter Bunny and the highlight is receiving a big chocolate Easter egg. Not so in Spain. It is not possible to spend Holy Week in a Spanish town without understanding its religious significance or feeling its sense of community. Maybe you have dreamed of going to Sevilla to see the “real” Spanish Easter, but have been put off by the vast crowds? To be sure, unless you manage to book an apartment with a balcony overlooking the route, or happen to be an unusually tall individual, your chances of seeing much of the procession there are limited. Not so in Haro, Rioja.
Not only the capital of the Rioja wine region, Haro is a fantastic destination if you want to experience a real Spanish Easter. The town is big enough to provide the people needed to make the processions a reality – brass band members, drummers, penitents in their coloured robes – yet small enough for you to have a realistic possibility of ending up in the front row, with a fantastic view of the action. Here Easter is about celebration, community, religion, tradition, food and wine, all bound up together. Whether you come for one night or for the whole of Holy Week, you are guaranteed a real, living spectacle, made by a community for whom it really matters. There is plenty of accommodation available right in the heart of the old town, from chic hotels to self-catering apartments. Plan your visit early to avoid disappointment.
During this Easter period the town becomes a real “Fiesta” town, as every evening you see crowds of people walking into the centre to watch the processions, and spill into the many bars and restaurants for a meal, a drink, a few pinchos….. Look out for local specialities such as the Rioja wine truffles (Trufas de vino de Rioja) sold in the bakery shops or the Jarreritos, a speciality of Haro in particular, a sweet pastry made in the shape of “jarritos” or small two handled jar.
And in the bars look out for signs saying “Hay Zuro” , “there is Zuro” – this is short for Zurracapote, a special Easter drink which people make at home, but which is also sold in some of the bars around the town. Traditionally it is made of wine, sugar, lemon peel, peach juice and cinnamon sticks. Delicious!
Each day in Easter Week brings its own special events and processions. One of the most striking takes place the Wednesday before Easter, and is called “El Encuentro” The Meeting. Starting around 9pm and taking well over an hour, the Procession of “El Encuentro”, “the Meeting”, is one of the most poignant of the Semana Santa, Holy Week. The Processions are led by a number of the “brotherhoods”, each in their own distinctive colours – emerald green, holy purple, virginal white, the members carrying crosses and staffs, and wearing white hoods over their heads, and playing drums and brass band instruments. There are two floats, each carried by a number of members of the brotherhoods in the style of pallbearers; this is both an honour and a burden in view of the great weight of the floats. One float is for the Virgin Mary and the other for Christ carrying His cross on His way to Calvary. Each procession takes its own course around the town, eventually meeting up together, face to face – El Encuentro. This imagined meeting is full of emotion, as Mother meets her son on His way to facing His fate on the cross. Eventually the processions wend their ways across the town and up the hill to the Church of Santo Tomas, for one final meeting between the Virgin and her Son.
Other processions take place throughout the week, with a Last Supper and Procession on Maundy Thursday, and the Santo Enterro, Holy Burial on Good Friday. Celebrations culminate on Easter Saturday with the Act of the Resurrection and Holy Mass. Each day commemorates something different, in its own way, with different floats, different actors and different music, until the whole of Christ’s passion is acted out.
Whether you attend out of religious fervour, cultural interest, or simply a love of good brass bands and fantastic drumming, this evening’s experience demonstrates that Haro is worth more than just a visit in June for La Batalla de Vino, the Wine Battle – it is an interesting town with a rich cultural heritage, and a fascinating place to spend Easter week for those looking for a taste of true Spain.