Holy Week. (That is what the title of this blog means, in case you were wondering.)
Holy Week is the culmination of the season of Lent for Christians, especially Catholics, and it is an important if not the most important week during the year. While Spain abolished Catholicism as the official religion in the 1978 Constitution, it recognized the importance of the religion in Spain, and today, the Catholic Church still has influence and power among the people and in some policy areas such as education. In addition, Catholic holidays are also the recognized state holidays in Spain, so, naturally, there is not school during Semana Santa, making it the effective Spring Break of Spain.
During the last part of the break, I went up to visit my family (host family from 2015) in Valladolid, Spain, which is one of the best places in Spain to watch some cool processions. During the week we watched and some of them participated in processions in the pueblo and the city.
Because of the unique history of Catholicism in Spain, it really does make Semana Santa one of the most interesting and best times to get a look at some Spain culture that has endured for hundreds of years. (Or you can just travel around Europe. I mean, it is the only spring-break-type week that we get during the spring semester. I went to France during the first part of the week.) During Semana Santa, different religious cofradías from each church of each city and town participate in processions (similar to parades, but with more religious/ceremonial purposes) through the streets of the cities. In these processions they have bands, people carrying crosses and candles, and a group or multiple groups either pushing or carrying (on their shoulders) some of the statues (called pasos) from their particular church. Besides the showing of religious devotion and adoration, it is also done with penance in mind. (The crosses and pasos are not light. In addition, some of the people in the procession choose to complete it barefooted. (Yes, their feet get very dirty.)
The combination of the music, the lights (from the candles), the robes, and, of course, the pasos make for an impressive sight. Processions often begin in the evenings and carry on well into the mornings, as they can be anywhere up to 8 hours in length. This Semana Santa I stood to watch one full procession, and it took 4 hours for the entire procession (of 33 pasos and 20 cofradías) just to pass by where I was standing. It was the most famous of the processions of the city of Valladolid, and it was worth it to witness the entire procession.
Here is a link to where you can watch the Good Friday procession in Valladolid: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=44LIxGgMswQ The video is 3 hours long… so I don’t expect anyone to watch it all, but open up the link and see what you think. Skip through it and see a few of the statues.
I know that these processions may be very different from anything that those of you reading this have seen or heard of, and the pictures and videos of the processions that you may look up might make you think of other, less respected groups, but I just wanted to introduce and seek to explain (in brief detail) a part of Spanish culture. And note that this practice and the robes that they are wearing have been used since before the New World was a whisper in anyone’s mind and the Spanish Inquisition was still a thing. Part of going abroad is learning about these interesting cultural practices and learn more about the country where you are studying, and then showing others and explaining them to others what you have seen.
I encourage you to research Semana Santa in Spain and their cultural practices during this week further if it intrigues you or let me know if you have any questions (firstname.lastname@example.org).