Easter in Spain isn't what it used to be

Easter in Spain isn't the same this year. The Roman Catholic Church, still shocked by a Socialist bill to legalize therapeutic abortion, must make do with drastically cut-back television coverage of the week's Easter activities.

TV viewers ''will be spared endless hours of processions and Easter masses, in addition to live coverage of all the Easter religious acts in Rome,'' said one Socialist member of the Board of Administration of National Television after the government announced the cutbacks.

Regular programming continues as usual, except for four Easter specials throughout the week. Even this was termed ''excessive'' by Socialist board member Roberto Dorado.

Surprisingly, in a country where over 95 percent of the population is either baptized or married in the Catholic faith, most Spaniards are not disappointed by the reduced Easter coverage. Nationwide surveys conducted by state-run radio showed that the overwhelming majority claim to be indifferent.

Since the arrival of democracy with the first free elections in 1977, there has been a gradual secularization of Spanish society. Under the Franco dictatorship, popular music was banned during Holy Week on radio and TV. Theaters and restaurants were closed, and any entertainment activity was banned from Thursday to Sunday of Easter week.

When tourism picked up in the 1960s, restaurants were allowed to open, but they served no meat on Good Friday. Some daring restaurants would quietly usher a few insistent patrons into a back room where they could enjoy roast lamb.

Easter activities verging on the macabre or the pagan in the past have attracted both foreign and Spanish tourists. Even today, hotels are completely booked in cities such as Seville that are famous for dramatic processions of ''penitents'' in hooded tunics that resemble Ku Klux Klan attire.

Although major cities such as Madrid still have token processions, ''there just isn't any more devotion,'' sighed one ceremony-devotee on radio. In Madrid, there are no more barefoot penitents, chained at the ankles, dragging heavy wooden crosses.

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