Easter in Spain means “Holy Week” or, as Spaniards call it, “Semana Santa”. It is considered as one of the most important Spanish traditions and an event of “International Tourist Interest” in many cities. Although each region of the country has its own tradition of particular celebrations through masses and processions, it has a major focus in the south of Spain, especially in Seville or in Malaga, in which participates even the famous Hollywood’s Spanish actor Antonio Banderas. It is an event that should definitely be experienced once in a life time: the streets come alive with thousands of people, music, processions, marching bands and a very unique atmosphere.
During this “Holy Week”, Catholics commemorate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, when all the people praised him as king palm (Palm Sunday); Christ’s Last Supper (Holy Thursday), when according to the New Testament Christ offered bread and wine to his apostles, giving rise to the Eucharist or Communion-; Christ’s death on the cross and his way to it (Good Friday) is also commemorated, as well as his Sabbath in the Sepulchre (Holy Saturday or Easter Saturday); and finally, the last event commemorated is his subsequent Resurrection on Sunday (Easter Sunday or Easter). Each of these days –except for Saturday- there is a number of processions, one from each brotherhood in the city, made up of “pasos” (floats) which are carried from their church to the cathedral and back again.
The different “pasos” symbolize the last days before Christ’s crucifixion and sympathize the grief lived by Virgin Mary, portraying different scenes from the Bible shown in major statues and images. Most brotherhoods carry two floats, one with Christ and one with his mourning mother, Mary the Virgin. The highlight of the week are the processions of Thursday and Friday. The events from Thursday evening never really stop, with processions from Thursday night (the early hours of Friday morning) until Friday evening, when the “Good Friday” floats leave the churches at midnight and are carried throughout the night until they reach their final destination, the cathedral.
The immense floats can weigh over 3,000 kilograms and are carried by the “costaleros” (carriers), whom are then followed by the religious brotherhoods of the different churches while marching the streets. Each procession lasts between six and eight hours, and each carrier bears the weight of about 40 kilograms on their shoulders during this time. It is seen as a privilege, honour and a once in a lifetime experience to be one of the carriers in the processions.
”Costaleros” of the different brotherhoods wear a robe and a cloak during the processions, which colour and shapes are different, according to each fraternity. The floats are accompanied during the parade by “Nazarenos” (penitents, people who march in the parade), who lead and follow the float bearing traditional candles or representative banners. To keep anonymous, “Nazarenos” cover their faces with the traditional “capirotes” (peaked hoods). Many might refer the attire to the ones worn by the Ku Klux Klan, however it is important to note that the meaning is entirely different.
Plus, the “Holy Week” dates back to the 16th century when the Church decided to present the story of the Passion of Christ in a way that the layperson could understand, and it was decided that the best way to do this would be a series of processions through the streets, depicting scenes from the story of the fall and rise again of Jesus Christ. So, despite of the attire, it obviously has nothing to do with the Ku Klux Klan practices. It is said, however, that early KKK members saw the Semana Santa celebrations and adopted the costume, so impressed were they by the effect the design had on onlookers.
Music is also an important element of the “Semana Santa”. Each float of each brotherhood has their owns bands -mainly composed by percussion and metal wind instruments- which opens the parade with music. The hymns of the band, written in minor keys, set the desparing tone of the processions, generally starting with a sober drumming march, followed by a sorrow melody interpreted by the cornets and trumpets when the floats appears.
Parade of the Brotherhood of “La Pasion”: Music Band, Nazarenos and Christ’s image. “Holy Monday” (Malaga, 2014)
Another important musical element of Semana Santa is the “saeta”. A saeta is a musical expression typical of Semana Santa, especifically in Andalusia. It is an outburst of flamenco song, sung to the images on the floats from one of the balconies in the narrow streets of the city while the parade goes over there. In times gone by they were spontaneous, the singer so overcome with emotion that only a flourish of flamenco will be enough to convey their emotions. Today, they are invariably preplanned. The procession will stop and listen to the song until it is over.
Spanish Flamenco singer Diana Navarro sings a Saeta to the “Virgin of the Greatest Pain”, Brotherhood of “Fusionadas”. “Holy Wednesday” (Malaga, 2014)
Being one of the most important and biggest celebrations in Spain, Semana Santa is definitely something that should not be missed. Experience the spirit and the passion of the people and join them by living the great atmosphere during this week full of tradition and culture is definitely an experience everyone should try at least once in life.