Spanish Vocabulary for Lent, Holy Week, and Easter

Easter Mass in Spain

Iglesia en Valladolid/Flickr/CC BY 1.0

Easter is the most widely and ardently celebrated holiday in most of the Spanish-speaking world—even bigger than Christmas—and Lent is observed nearly everywhere. The week before Easter, known as "Santa Semana," is a vacation week in Spain and most of Latin America; in some areas, the vacation period extends to the following week.

Due to their strong Roman Catholic heritage, most countries celebrate Holy Week by emphasizing the events leading up to the death of Jesus ("Jesús" or "Jesucristo"), often with large processions, with Easter set aside for family gatherings and/or carnival-like celebrations.

Easter and Other Words and Phrases

As you learn about Easter in Spanish—or, if you're fortunate, travel to where it's celebrated—these are some words and phrases you'll want to know.

Spanish Phrase Meaning in English
el carnival Carnival, a celebration that takes place in the days immediately preceding Lent. Carnivals in Latin America and Spain are usually organized locally and last several days.
la cofradía a brotherhood associated with a Catholic parish. In many communities, such brotherhoods have organized Holy Week observances for centuries.
la Crucifixión the Crucifixion
la Cuaresma Lent. The word is related to cuarenta, the number 40, for the 40 days of fasting and prayer (Sundays not included) that take place during the period. It is often observed through various kinds of self-denial.
el Domingo de Pascua Easter Sunday. Other names for the day include "Domingo de Gloria," "Domingo de Pascua," "Domingo de Resurrección," and "Pascua Florida."
el Domingo de Ramos Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter. It commemorates the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem five days before his death. (A "ramo" in this context is a tree branch or a bunch of palm fronds.)
la Fiesta de Judas a ceremony in parts of Latin America, usually held the day before Easter, in which an effigy of Judas, who betrayed Jesus, is hung, burned, or otherwise mistreated
la Fiesta del Cuasimodo a celebration held in Chile the Sunday after Easter
los huevos de Pascua Easter eggs. In some areas, painted or chocolate eggs are part of the Easter celebration. They are not associated with the Easter bunny in Spanish-speaking countries.
el Jueves Santo Maundy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter. It commemorates the Last Supper.
el Lunes de Pascua Easter Monday, the day after Easter. It is a legal holiday in several Spanish-speaking countries.
el Martes de Carnaval Mardi Gras, the last day before Lent
el Miércoles de Ceniza Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. The main Ash Wednesday ritual involves having ashes imposed on your forehead in the shape of a cross during Mass.
el mona de Pascua a type of Easter pastry eaten primarily in the Mediterranean areas of Spain
la Pascua de Resurrección Easter. Usually, "Pascua" stands by itself as the word used most often to refer to Easter. Coming from the Hebrew "Pessach," the word for Passover, "pascua" can refer to almost any holy day, usually in phrases such as "Pascua judía" (Passover) and "Pascua de la Natividad" (Christmas).
el paso an elaborate float that is carried in Holy Week processions in some areas. These floats typically carry representations of the Crucifixion or other events in the Holy Week story.
la Resurrección  the Resurrection
la rosca de Pascua a ring-shaped cake that is part of the Easter celebration in some areas, especially Argentina
el Sábado de Gloria Holy Saturday, the day before Easter. It is also called "Sábado Santo."
la Santa Cenat the Last Supper. It is also known as "la Última Cena."
la Santa Semana Holy Week, the eight days that begin with Palm Sunday and end with Easter

Other Phrases

El vía crucis: This phrase from Latin, sometimes spelled as "viacrucis," refers to any of the 14 Stations of the Cross ("Estaciones de la Cruz") representing the stages of Jesus' walk (sometimes called "la Vía Dolorosa") to Calvary, where he was crucified. It is common for that walk to be reenacted on Good Friday. (Note that "vía crucis" is masculine even though "vía" by itself is feminine.)

El Viernes de Dolores: Friday of Sorrows, also known as "Viernes de Pasión." The day to recognize the suffering of Mary, the mother of Jesus, is observed one week before Good Friday. In some areas, this day is recognized as the start of Holy Week. "Pasión" here refers to suffering just as the English term, passion, does in a liturgical context.