If you’ve read any of our previous articles on Semana Santa, you already know that the week leading up to Easter (“Holy Week”) is one of the most special and important celebrations in Spain. Semana Santa is traditionally observed with dozens of processions in every city and town, which draw large gatherings of people in the streets, day after day. Unfortunately, this year the celebration will look very different due to COVID-19 health regulations.
It would be wrong to say “Semana Santa has been canceled,” but that’s certainly the way it feels here in Spain. The holiday will still come to pass, of course, but the most traditional aspects of this time of year—the processions—have been canceled. Furthermore, due to COVID-19 restrictions, residents will not be allowed to travel beyond the borders of their communidades autónomas (autonomous regions) resulting in even less festive feelings this year.
Here’s what we understand about the current circumstances:
Semana Santa in “Confinamiento Perimetral”
On March 10, 2021, the Interterritorial Council of the National Health System, which consists of Sanidad (the National Health Services) and leaders of each of Spain’s autonomous regions, met to discuss the upcoming holiday. They decided on a (continued) confinement of residents to their regions throughout Semana Santa to avoid mass movement which could easily provoke a fourth wave of Coronavirus.
This decision came as a surprise to many because, when a similar question arose before the Christmas holidays, special concessions were made and families were allowed to celebrate together, abiding by more lenient regulations.
This time, concessions have not been made and residents who find themselves in a different region from their family members will be forced to celebrate separately. Movement between regions is only permitted in cases of fuerza mayor (essentially “acts of God” or unavoidable circumstances), such as those laid out in the Real Decreto 926/2020 (document in Spanish).
Additional COVID-19 Restrictions
Besides the permitral confinement, other State of Alarm restrictions remain in place on a national level and can be adjusted according to each individual region. For example, in Madrid, members of different families are not allowed to meet in the homes of each other. On the other hand, in Granada these kinds of gatherings are allowed as long as they are limited to six people. The national curfew, or toque de queda, remains in place from 23:00 to 6:00 each night. All residents are required to be at home between these hours.
This has been the rule since returning from the more lenient Christmastime curfew, but individual regions can impose stricter curfews. That is to say they may lengthen the timing of the curfew, such as extending it to last from 22:00 to 7:00, but they may not reduce it, such as allowing residents to stay out until midnight.
According to the official tourism website of Madrid, “due to COVID-19, any events and activities that are allowed to go ahead in Easter 2021 will fully comply with current health protection regulations put in place by the government.” It is hard to imagine which of the traditional activities, therefore, could still take place this year.
Processions have seemingly been cancelled across the country. Our guess is that small gatherings will take place among members of churches and/or cofradías and hermandades (the groups that usually participate in the processions), but it’s difficult to find information about any particular celebrations that are allowed to take place in 2021 and so we cannot confirm any details.
Controversy Surrounding Semana Santa 2021
It’s understandable that health regulations need to remain in place given the current circumstances. However, due to the concessions that were made for Christmas, many residents are upset with the strict regulations imposed during these holidays. Of course, many people want to be able to celebrate Easter with their families, but the controversy goes beyond that. Semana Santa is also one of the most popular times for Spaniards to enjoy some time off of work and travel. The current restrictions prohibit residents from traveling for pleasure to other regions of Spain, but it does nothing to prevent EU tourists from entering the country for their vacations!
Once tourists enter Spain, they, too, would be subject to the perimetral confinement. However, most people flying into vacation hotspots like Málaga, Alicante, or Barcelona are perfectly happy to spend their holidays within the confines of that destination’s region. The controversy, of course, lies in the fact that this means travelers are allowed to enjoy a vacation in Spain this Easter, but Spaniards/residents are not.
It’s sad that we are about to see the second Semana Santa in a row go by without its normal pomp and circumstance, but it’s a reasonable sacrafice given the current health crisis. Unfortunately, like elsewhere around the globe, not all sectors are in alignment on how to approach the situation. This has resulted in tourism continuing to be allowed in Spain, but only those in particular circumstances can take advantage of this.
How do you feel about the current regulations? Will you be celebrating Semana Santa in any way this year? Whatever your plans are, we hope that you are able to carry them out safely and respectfully.