a cultural curiosity
In the States, Holy Week seems often to be lost in the flood of Easter eggs, chocolate bunnies, and Peeps. In Spain, Easter is lost in a flood of Holy Week somber marching tunes, people dressed in religious costumes, and antique religious statues being taken out for a walk. For an American living in Spain Easter takes on a whole different meaning – taking on the role of teacher to the innocent tourists of the traditions and history of this culturally rich country.
It is honestly a surreal experience to find oneself in Spain during Holy Week. In modern times, after decades under a Catholic dictator, most young Spaniards have little interest in religion, yet, so many here have an intense connection to the country’s traditional Holy Week festivities. Ten days chock full of tradition complete with pasos, which are statues of Christ, the Virgin Mary, or other religious figures, many dating as far back as the 1500’s, processing down the streets flanked by marching bands droning on with somber tunes. It seems like everyone you meet is signed up to carry, accompany, or play for one icon or another. And when they aren’t participating, everyone is lining the streets to see the processions meander by.
In most towns the festivities start on Friday of Sorrows, two days before Palm Sunday (which I always thought started off Holy Week), and it’s hard to avoid being pulled into the strange celebrations. In my case, round about 1am on Friday of Sorrows I started to hear the drums approaching, literally heralding in the start of this eventful time. As the week goes on the processions continue to proliferate until it’s impossible to escape them. By Holy Thursday, everywhere you turn you find yourself corralled by one train or another of people dressed like monks, or in robes that are eerily reminiscent of the KKK regalia.
And I realize how all of that sounds: a little creepy and dark, and in some ways it is, but this age old tradition is, as all things Spanish, a celebration to be enjoyed. Being a Catholic country, both Holy Thursday and Good Friday are national holidays, making Easter weekend a time when the Spanish flock to cities like Seville, Malaga, and Zamora, famous for their processions and enjoy an intense immersion in tradition and culture. Holy Week in Spain is a cultural curiosity fit to be seen and experienced especially if you combine it with a glass of tinto and a tapa, which no self-respecting Spaniard would go without.
So if you’re willing to open your mind and allow yourself to be mesmerized by this somewhat odd tradition, you’re sure to be pleasantly surprised. Maybe you’ll get lucky and score a torrija, the French toast like sweet proper to this time of year.