Mournful, lacking joy, morose and fascinating are the processions of Semana Santa. Christine Medina, our guest writer and expert in Southern Spain, takes us into the streets and has us trudging along with the procession. I hear that people sob openly watching the processions and never mind the happiness. Another incredible Spanish tradition that I don’t understand and yet find it captivating.
By Christine Medina
Easter in Spain is a very different celebration from the chocolate bunnies and marshmallow Peeps that we associate with Easter in the United States. Though Spain has Catholic roots, most modern-day Spaniards aren’t highly religious, especially the younger generations–but that all changes during Holy Week, also known as Semana Santa.
Semana Santa is a week-long, solemn affair that leads up to Easter Sunday. It is celebrated throughout Spain with processions through the streets and is most elaborately celebrated in Sevilla, Málaga and Léon.
Though I’ve never made it to any of these larger-scale events, I have witnessed locally-produced processions in Tarifa. I remember the initial shock I felt seeing the penitents dressed in dark, hooded cloaks (nazarenos) with a pointed cap (capirote) that looked eerily similar to that of the Ku Klux Klan. It was after a thorough search I did find that the KKK stole this idea of a traditional Spanish robe that serves to protect the identities of those seeking public penance, for their own uniforms.
The processions also included pasos, which are huge, heavy floats that feature scenes of the last week of Jesus’s life. These are carried on the backs of costaleros, and while traditionally dock workers had the honor of carrying these massive floats (often over a metric ton!) , now it’s mostly reserved for the younger members of brotherhoods who organize the processions.
As the procession I witnessed in Tarifa moved slowly forward, musicians pierced the silence of the night with their music: serious, sad songs that matched the tone of the evening. Penitents shuffled forward in their nazarenos, costaleros heaved with the weight of the pasos above them, and I stood in awe, soaking up a unique moment that I knew was nothing like I’d ever seen before.
Though many Spaniards may not be religious during the rest of the year, in Andalucía, they put out all the stops and create a spectacle that touches you, despite what your religion may be. Back home, Easter celebrations would always include a visit to church, but witnessing the work that goes into the processions, the pride shared amongst the town residents, and the high emotions hanging heavily in the air, it definitely made me appreciate celebrating this holiday in Andalucía.
Christine Medina, originally from Seattle, Washington, has been an expat in Andalucia for two years. She shares her travel advice, anedotes and photographs on http://www.christineinspain.com/