Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday): 24 March 2013
Commemorating Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem as the Son of God, Holy Week or ‘Semana Santa’ celebrations begin on Palm Sunday when processions and special church services are held for the ‘blessing of the palms’. The palms are made from palm tree leaves that are protected from sunlight as they grow so they don’t turn green and remain very flexible. They are then intricately woven and often braided with ribbons. Smaller versions are also worn on the lapel.
Locals take their specially decorated palms or freshly cut olive branches, sometimes attached to a cross, to church to be blessed at Eucharist Mass by the bishop or parish priest, after which they are often kept in doorways or on balconies for quite a long time for good fortune and to ward off evil.
In Maó and Ciutadella, different religious guilds (cofradías) take part in the first of the Easter processions known as the Via Crucis (literally Way of the Cross) or Path of Suffering, relating the story of Jesus from his condemnation through to crucifixion and burial. Dressed in their particular ceremonial robes, the brotherhoods or ‘Confraternidades’ carry floats with carved religious figures decorated with flowers through the streets. This event, dating back to Medieval times, marks the build up to Good Friday and the Holy Burial, when the grandest and most emotional liturgical processions take place.
Jueves Santo (Maundy Thursday): 28 March 2013 – Public Holiday
During the Monday and Tuesday beforehand parishes conduct acts of penitence. On the Wednesday evening the bishop and priests in his diocese celebrate the Misa Crismal at the Cathedral in Ciutadella where the three Holy Oils of Catechumens, Chrism and for the Sick are blessed for the coming year. Jueves Santo is a Public Holiday throughout most of Spain, including the Balearic Islands, during which various religious rites are performed and church bells are silenced in respect and remembrance of the death of Jesus.
Viernes Santo (Good Friday): 29 March 2013 – National Public Holiday
This is the most religious and solemn day of the Easter period. At nightfall, the ‘Santo Entierro’ (Holy Burial) processions take place in towns and villages, the most spectacular of these being the processions that take place in Maó and also in Ciutadella, setting out from the Cathedral and led by the bishop.
In Menorca, as nightfall approaches, the spectacular ‘Santo Entierro’ (Holy Burial) processions take to the streets of Maó and Ciutadella.
Large floats (pasos), with magnificent carved statues recreating the last days of Christ, are carried by teams of bearers (costaleros) accompanied by the penitents (nazarenos) who rock from side to side as they walk. The penitents include members of the town hall and various religious guilds, many wearing their traditional costumes of long tunics and pointed hoods with full face masks (ku klux klan style) with only slits for the eyes. This is to hide their identity and symbolises that God is the only one who knows who they are. Others are dressed as biblical figures and centurions and some bear elaborated decorated crosses and banners.
In Maó, the long procession makes its way around the town to the somber rhythm of the local drum and brass band, shrouded in an atmosphere of meditation and prayer. While in Ciutadella, led by the bishop, the brotherhoods and other participants set out from the Cathedral in complete silence, broken only by the clinking of ancient crosses and effigies as they parade through the streets. Whatever the weather, these surreal processions are watched with avid solemnity and emotion by the people of the town who line the streets.
Sábado de Gloria (Easter Saturday): 30 March 2013
This is a normal day, the only religious act being the evening celebration of the Easter Vigil. At the moment of consecration, all the church bells ring out around the island in the Toque de Gloria (Notes of Glory) signifying the resurrection of Christ.
Domingo de Resurrección (Easter Sunday): 31 March 2013 – National Public Holiday
Easter Sunday is the most important Christian festivity with many children choosing to celebrate their first Holy Communion on this day during mass. It is a day of celebration with the municipal band parading the streets of Ciutadella and choirs singing joyous songs in the streets of Maó and other towns and villages.
An unusual tradition is held in Cuitadella. It is the Matances de Bujots (killing of the straw men) when effigies of topical figures are strung up in prominent places around the town and become targets for marksmen. Bujot literally means ‘rag doll’ and is a derogatory word for someone without personality.
These straw men or guys (bujots) represent well known people such as politicians who have been in the news recently and this is an opportunity to poke fun at them. The ‘bujots’ are painstakingly prepared weeks before Easter and then kept in secret until they are hung up on Easter Sunday with placards around their neck explaining their ‘crime’.
At midday precisely, groups of men armed with hunting rifles fire shots (special blanks made in Maó containing a small amount of gunpowder) at close range into each ‘bujot’ until it falls to the ground in flames. Each ‘bujot’ may take as many as 300 shots and the noise is absolutely deafening!
The origin of this tradition is unclear but probably comes from an ancient custom where straw dolls were marched around the streets of Ciutadella and then burnt in the Plaça des Born. It is thought that the people of Ciutadella considered this a festive way to finish Lent, purified and safe from bad luck.
In other parts of Menorca, a joyful and very popular double procession takes place called the ‘Procesión del Encuentro’ or Reunion. This ancient tradition has always taken place in Es Migjorn but in recent years has been reinstated in Maó and some other towns. One procession carries the statue of the Holy Virgin Mary while the other one carries a statue of the risen Christ. They then meet in the main square in front of the parish church. Special little choirs tour the streets singing the cheerful ‘Deixem lo dol’ (we’ve left the mourning) to celebrate the resurrection.
Lunes de Pascua de Resurrección (Easter Monday): 1 April 2013 – Public Holiday
Although not an official Spanish national holiday, for the fifth consecutive year, Easter Monday is a Public Holiday throughout the Balearic Islands when banks, shops, most town supermarkets (those in the resorts remain open) and most businesses are closed, making it the longest and most serious festive break of the year. Check locally for details.