Holy week in Spain is big. Huge. I would argue that it is the biggest or close to the biggest Easter fiesta in the world. A week long of eating, drinking, processions, partying, and gossiping as some celebrate the final week of Christ’s life. Mary, being the patron saint of Spain, is very prominently displayed on the processional pasos. Carrying these floats are men dressed in the traditional pointed hat robe, barefoot, with prayers of repentance in their hearts. Each procession is different with its floats, people, and the mood. I have been to some that are quite lively with crowds cheering, screaming, and praying fervently out loud. Others are silent with only hushed whispers to be heard.
Being in Sevilla again was a dream. Being in Sevilla, the world’s biggest Holy Week party, was beyond anything I could have dreamed of. We ran into 4 processions during the day trip there, 2 of them on purpose. The entire city is one big party. It is nearly impossible to navigate the city as soon as the first parade begins in the morning. The actual processions take up the entire street of every major road to the center of the city, in which the cathedral sits. Every time we assumed we had walked around one procession we would run into another. It was the funniest, funnest, most frustrating situation. The floats themselves are just enormous. There must be at least 40 people under each one and at least 400 people in the typical hooded outfits carrying crosses and such accompanying it. They were ornate, very heavy, and extremely over the top in every sense of the word. The most exciting part was watching them exit their parish for the march around the cathedral and back. The whole crowd hushes and then the band plays a truly resolute fanfare to begin the triumphant trek. At one point we accidentally ended up in the middle of the parade with police barricades on either side of the street. As we awkwardly stood there, lost at what to do, I made one sided conversation with a young girl in a mask. She either couldn’t speak or didn’t want to, but we played charades and she showed us how to get out of the procession. She also gave me a cardita, little cards they give out to special people in the crowd.
Another time we tried to walk around a procession to see the beginning of another and we ran into a huge float dedicated to the virgin Mary which had stopped for a break (a very common practice as they are marching for upwards of 10 hours). There was a man on a balcony overlooking the street pouring his heart out to the virgin in a song very much reminiscent of cante jondo, the call of the flamenco. What is interesting about these people is that they profess their love for the virgin, “the queen of the heavens” in front of one float (because it’s their favorite) and the next float they call her a whore. (Because it is the float of another parish). It makes you wonder how religious these activities are anymore and how much it is now just an excuse to throw a party and be better than one’s neighbor. The whole experience was surreal. There were simply thousands of people crammed into the blistering heat of the streets watching thousands of “sinners” marching to the cathedral and home again. Once again, Sevilla did not disappoint in a unique cultural experience.
Valladolid was quite a contrast to Sevilla. The city was smaller, there were next to not tourists (in fact I did not see one souvenir shop), and the processions were a little different. However, there were still many people. We saw 3 processions on purpose and 2 on accident as we battled the crowds to get to the train station on time to go home. They were about the arrest, Judah betraying Jesus, and the Last Supper. They were so large that they were pulled on wheels instead of carried. But it was a beautiful day overall. Incredibly chill with a festive atmosphere. We played in the river, ate torrija, made flower bracelets in a park, swung on some swings, had a seed fight, and head some very lovely pinchos. The cathedral was big and beautiful and the entire town was on vacation from reality. The balconies were classically decked out with the local’s finest linen, and many elderly espanolas wore black to commemorate the somber day of the Savior’s arrest. Semana Santa didn’t end there though. When we arrived home in Alcala he party was just beginning. Apparently Thursday and Friday are the biggest days and there are processions and parties all night long.
Wrapping up Holy Week
Holy Week became more significant as the week went on and I learned more about the very old traditions and ideas surround it. I realized on Thursday that the floats are not just random biblical scenes that the parish chose to depict. They follow the last week of Christ’s life. Thursday I saw depictions of the last supper, the garden of Gethsemane, Judah’s betrayal, and the arrest. These were perhaps the most intricate floats I got to see. Thursday night into Friday is the biggest day of Holy Week. The people stay up all night and many processions travel until 3 or 4 in the morning. Of course the very Spanish tradition of chocolate con churros follows.
On Friday night, after a trip to Toledo, we saw several processions in our lovely home town of Alcala. Even in the littlest pueblos there are many processions and parties to be found. The most poignant for me did not even exit the church until 11 p.m. We all gathered at the cathedral to watch the grand beginning (as it is by far the most exciting part). There was chattering and excitement in the air of the plaza next to the cathedral, visible by soft yellow glowing lampposts. However, at 11 o’clock some cue was given and we were plunged into darkness. The electricity and somberness in the air was tangible. It was indescribable. Simply thick with hushed anticipation as the entire crowd went silent and held their breath. Suddenly a toll of a single bell began and out came the first parade float: an empty cross with linen swaying in the gentle evening breeze. It was such a powerful reminder that at that point in the week, the atonement had been completed and the cross was empty. He had paid for our sins with His own life. The second float was one of his broken body laying as if on a casket. Those that carried the paso resembled pallbearers carrying their friend to his tomb. It was the first time that I felt the Spirit so strongly while watching the processions and I began to tear up as the Holy Ghost testified that He died for me. Me. Such an imperfect, proud soul. Amazing.
Of course we all looked forward to the final day of Holy Week: Easter Sunday. The float depicted the resurrected Lord and offered a sense of hope for the future. Of course, like many other Christians, we attended Easter mass. I really love Easter and the opportunity it gives to reflect on the Savior’s life and His awe inspiring sacrifice for all of us. It is a time for rebirth, for rededication, and for a stronger resolve to become better than you once were. Underneath all the glitz, that is what I believe Holy Week is all about. I certainly felt touched by the events in the week and the reminder to keep Him in my life.