It is said that the structure of a language can define the character of its native speakers. While there may be some debate as to the extent to which this is true, what is certainly true is that each language has its own sentence patterns and structure. For example, people tend to use impersonal active sentences in Spanish, while the same ideas are typically expressed using the passive voice in English. Perhaps we Spanish people prefer not to take a passive role, but instead a more active one… who knows!


Let’s take a look at an example of this:


  • Typical Spanish sentence: Le pagaban mensualmente (literally: “They paid him monthly”).
  • Typical English sentence: He was paid monthly.


This means that learning a language not only consists of memorizing long lists of vocabulary, but also of learning how to structure your words in new ways so that you can be properly understood.


For instance, we would never greet someone here by asking whether or not they had already eaten, as they do in Chinese. If someone asked you that question in Spain, it would probably be because they intended to invite you for lunch… and a good chat, of course. Let’s see what that would look like in Spanish:


Person A: Hola (Hello).

Person B: Hola, ¿ya has comido? (Hello, have you already eaten?)

Person A: No, todavía no (Not yet).

Person B: ¡Fantástico! ¿Comemos juntos? (Great! Shall we have lunch together?)


However, I also believe that language is not just defined by the way it is structured, but also by the influence that history has had on it. Spain, in particular, has been influenced quite a bit by its religious history. As a result, the Spanish language contains a lot of religious expressions, many of which are still used today but with some changes in their meaning. In other words, we use them without even thinking about their religious connotations, since they are no longer used in such context.


It’s just like Easter (Semana Santa) in Spain nowadays. There is a mix between those who see it as a time of devotion, and those who see it as a holiday. We all long for nice weather, but for some it is so that their saints can be brought out in lavish processions, while for others it’s so that they can go have a delicious paella by the beach.


This article celebrates this “mixture” by teaching you some common Spanish expressions of religious origin.


Expression #1: Ojalá


This expression demonstrates the influence that Arabic has had on Spanish. Originally, it meant something along the lines of “I hope God wants…,” but now we just use it to say “I wish….”  


  • Ojalá estuvieras aquí (I wish you were here).


Expression #2: Hablar en Cristiano


We ask someone to “speak Christian” (hablar en cristiano), when we don’t understand what they mean. It’s possible that Christians said this in the past when they could not understand Arabic.


  • Si los políticos hablaran en cristiano, sería más fácil votar (If politicians spoke Christian, it would be easier to vote).


Expression #3: Estar como dios


If someone is like God, it means that they are in a very good position and things are going great.


  • Tiene una nueva oficina con unas vistas increíbles y le llueven los contratos. ¡Está como dios! (She’s got a new office with some incredible views and she’s getting tons of contracts. Things are going great for her!)


We can also use other verbs, such as “live,” to express that someone has been very lucky and is going through a great period in their life:


  • Desde que le tocó la lotería vive como dios (He’s been living like a God since he won the lottery).


Expression #4: Hacer algo como dios manda


Literally, this expression means to do things the way God has ordered. More commonly, it means to do things properly or in a socially acceptable way.


  • Estamos comiendo. Siéntate como dios manda, por favor. (We are having lunch. Please, sit properly).


Can you imagine God asking someone to sit properly?


Expression #5: De Pascuas a Ramos


This expression literally means “from Easter to Palm Sunday.” Palm Sunday (Ramos, which means “tree branches”) is celebrated the week before Easter (Pascua or Semana Santa). After this, there is an entire year until the Easter season begins again. Therefore, when something happens de Pascuas a Ramos, it means rarely.


  • Se mudó de ciudad y ahora nos vemos de Pascuas a Ramos (He moved to another city and now we only see him from time to time).


Expression #6: Hacer la pascua


This literally means: “to do the Easter” or, in other words, to make things difficult for someone. While this is probably a reference to the crucifixion, it is generally used to refer to difficulties that are not nearly as extreme.


  • Este coche no funciona bien, no arranca a la primera y me hace la pascua todas las mañanas (This car is not working properly. It never starts on the first try and it drives me crazy every morning).


Expression #7: Estar como unas pascuas


“To be like Easter” means that you are really, really happy. It is most likely an allusion to Sunday, when it is said that Christ was resurrected.


  • Desde que se enteraron que estaba embarazada están como unas pascuas (Ever since they found out that she was pregnant they have been really happy).


Expression #8: Santas pascuas


“Holy Easter.” This is what we say when we either want to indicate that there’s no problem and everything is great, or that we want to stop speaking about something.


  • Si tienes hambre, cómete mi bocadillo. Yo comeré cualquier cosa luego y santas pascuas. (If you’re hungry, take my sandwich. I’ll have something later and that’s all.)
  • Yo ya te he dado mi opinión, pero haz lo quieras y santas pascuas (I told you what I thought, but do whatever you feel like and that’s all).


Now, let’s take a look at these expressions in action:


  • Últimamente, viajamos de pascuas a ramos, y esta semana santa, si la lluvia no nos hace la pascua, pensamos ir a la playa. Estamos como unas pascuas. Pero si finalmente no podemos ir, nos quedaremos tranquilamente en casa y santas pascuas (We don’t usually travel much. This Easter we plan to go to the beach if it doesn’t rain. We are really excited. However, if in the end we can’t go, we will relax at home and that’s all).


I hope you had a happy Easter!


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Hero Image by Jan Vašek (CC0)