In Italy and Spain, the celebration of Easter comes second only to Christmas. Normally, Easter celebrations involve numerous processions throughout cities, towns and villages. Floats featuring effigies of Jesus and Mary pass through the streets, marching bands accompany the processions, and thousands of people gather to celebrate. Easter brings people together in a way that goes beyond religion - although the majority of Spain and Italy is considered to be Catholic, Easter celebrations bring vast numbers of tourists, and there are even some secular processions.
This year it is not possible to hold the customary celebrations. The impacts of COVID-19 are being felt across the globe, and the cancellation of Easter celebrations brings increased social, religious and economic impacts.
While Easter celebrations in Spain and Italy differ greatly from those in the UK, we are all facing similar social impacts at this time. Although the Easter processions are sombre and serious, they are also celebratory and bring vast numbers of people together in the streets. Normally, families would gather for a large lunch of traditional dishes and cakes, much like we do in the UK. In Italy, Easter Monday is typically spent with friends on trips to the country or picnics in the parks. In whichever way an individual might choose to spend Easter, it is almost certain that they would be surrounded by other people.
This year, instead of taking to the streets to watch the ceremonies, people were confined to their homes, unable to attend the important religious events. Pope Francis still carried out the majority of the customary rituals, with the faithful joining him through the media. However, one of the most important and dramatic elements of Holy Week had to be cancelled - the traditional ‘Via Crucis’ torchlit procession on Good Friday in which the Pope says numerous prayers and passes his blessings on to the crowd. Instead, the Pope read the prayers in an almost empty St Peter’s square and the event was transmitted online.
Moreover, it is not only locals who attend the Easter celebrations in Spain and Italy – in fact, many areas in Spain and Italy consider Easter to mark the beginning of the tourist season. In Spain, Seville is renowned for holding one of the largest Easter celebrations and last year this city alone generated 400 million euros during Semana Santa. This year, with the Semana Santa processions cancelled for the first time since 1933, the city has suffered an enormous emotional and economic loss. Seville will not be the only place to have suffered hugely. It is customary that the Easter processions are rehearsed and planned for many months, costing a vast amount of money, most of which is spent before Easter itself. These losses add yet another layer to the crisis being faced during this time.
However, the crucifixion is also seen as a story of rebirth. Perhaps this can take on an extra significance this year and serve as a ray of hope as Italy and Spain begin to slowly lift restrictions.
By Imogen Peck.
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