Locals toast Easter with a ‘Kill Jews’ cocktail in León, Spain

In León, the ancient city in Northwest Spain, locals celebrate the Easter holiday with a special coctail and a cheerful cry of  “Matar judíos,” or “Kill Jews.”

Some bars even advertise that they serve „Mata judios” cocktails, though most menus say „limonada.” The Leonese cocktail is made from red wine, lemons, cinnamon and sugar, sometimes with oranges and figs.

According to tradition, people drink 33 limonadas during Holy Week, representing the age of Jesus when he was crucified. The Holy Week is the most important religious period in Spain.

It’s also a centuries-old tradition for revelers seeking limonadas to say they are going out to “kill Jews.”

“It’s an expression here,” Margarita Torres Sevilla, a professor of medieval history at the University of León, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “For example, you tell me, ‘Have a drink with me? Okay, let’s go kill Jews.’ Another typical sentence of Holy Week is, ‘How many Jews have you killed? Three, four, five [limonadas]? Oh, you have killed a lot.’”

However, locals claim that in León, the phrase is not seen as vulgar or antisemitic. Many bars advertise their limonada proudly on social media, using the phrase “Matar judíos,” or “Kill Jews” to advertise their seasonal special.

“People are used to it here, it’s an expression that is not racist at all,” said José Manuel, who works at Vychio Cafe Bar. “It’s an expression from a time period of racism but now, no, it’s an expression out of custom.”

Jews settled in the area of León in the 10th century, but initial peace was gradually disrupted by discriminative measures by rulers. In the end, in the 15th century, León was devastated after the Black Death swept through the city, and a religious fervor was whipped up against Jews, ending in the murder of several Jews during the Holy Week

“Quiñones [a nobleman in debt to a Jew] said on Holy Week, our Lord was accused by the Jews and the Jews killed him,” says Torres Sevilla. “So what do we do with the Jews? Kill them. But the real reason was not a Christian motive — the real reason was that he had an important debt to an important merchant of the Jewish community.”

To celebrate their supposed vengeance for the death of Jesus, Quiñones and his allies went to drink wine in Barrio Húmedo. Thus commenced the ritual of downing limonadas to the refrain of “killing Jews,” says Torres Sevilla, though there are other versions that explain the emergence of the phrase.

Not long after Quiñones’s attack, Jews were expelled from León in 1481., and 11 years later, under the Alhambra Decree of King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I, from all of Spain.


Photo credit: Shira Li Bartov