The Phenomenom of Semana Santa in Andalucia

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Semana Santa is the celebration that takes place the week leading up to Easter;  it is an event that literally transforms towns and cities across Andalucia.  Processions of elaborately decorated pasos “float-like structures” adorned with Jesus and Mary, groups of pointy-hood wearing penitentes, the aroma of incense and burning candles and the sound marching bands all walking slowly from their hermandads “brotherhoods” to the cathedral and back.  For a week straight it is a nonstop ritual creating a constant buzz of activity at all hours.   It’s more than just a celebration of religious importance, its a huge celebration for the identity of the Andaluz; it’s unlike any celebration we have in the U.S and it doesn’t make sense until you experience it.

Leading up to Semana Santa:
The preparation for Semana Santa takes place at the end of February/beginning of March.  In Jerez, the center transformed from an area of wide open boulevards and walkways into a maze of street lined red palcos or “bleachers” corralling you into following the direction they want you to go, but might not necessarily want to.  The palcos are rented out to families for the week and it allows them to have their spot to watch the processions.  Along the main processions route, trash cans were taken out to allow room for the bleachers, roads were closed and rerouted, bus stops and billboards taken down and crossing walk ramps cemented over to make the sidewalk a continuous flat surface.  In the weeks leading up to it in the streets at night you can find the different hermandads training and practicing with a paso-like structure to the beat of Semana Santa music.  For them it’s an honor, carrying the paso is something many of my younger students look up to; I didn’t know why, to me carrying anywhere between 25-70kg on my shoulders for 8 or more hours is the last thing I’d want to do, but in order to understand it you have to understand that Semana Santa is more about a culturally identity than a religious one.

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Experiencing Semana Santa:                                                                                                                 My first experience happened when I was in Granada and it was only a little taste, a tapa of what was yet to come. It was Sunday, the start and we were at the mirador with a group of people we met from the hostel admiring the Alhambra at night and in the distance we could hear the faint beat of drums and horns. It wouldn’t be until the next night on our way out that  I would experience a procession first hand. With an electric buzz in the air, people lined either side of the street, watching, waiting for the paso to slowly make its way. Meanwhile street vendors flanked both sides, some selling baked potatoes and others selling candy and sweets. We were excited, we had heard so much about it and now we were finally beginning to experience it.

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In Jerez we would come to see many pasos over the next few days and get a chance to be amidst the action.  Jerez has the largest official Semana Santa route in all of Andalucia, the route from my understanding is the route taken to the cathedral.  Overall the experience was incredible and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would; originally I didn’t want to be anywhere near the city during this time, but the more I learned about it and the more I came to understand it I knew I needed to, I couldn’t miss it; it was eye-opening and some times frustrating (in a good way).  The city felt alive, the hours that were normally quiet (mid-afternoon) were full of people and three times as crowded at night.

There were so many processions going on it was impossible not to run into them; the night our friends from Granada visited we were eating and drinking in a Tabanco when a procession started passing, as were trying to leave we got caught right in the middle just as the paso moved by.  On more than one occasion while on our way to a bar we ran into a procession and were forced to find a different route or sit back and enjoy it.  It was exciting because you never knew if you’d run into one (which was more than likely) and there was the building of anticipation of seeing a paso you had yet to see.  Whether you wanted to or not, you get caught up in the motion and experience of it all.

For me the most memorable experience was during la madrugada.  Literally translated madrugada means early morning; during Semana Santa it is the series of processions beginning late on Thursday night to Friday morning; it is one of the most popular nights of Semana Santa.  Mitch and I were on our way home from the bars around 5am and the streets were packed(the main photo was taken during this), bars and restaurants were open serving food and alcohol.  The experience came as the paso stopped in front of us, everyone grew quiet and a lone man started singing, a song so emotionally charged you could feel it in your bones.  Then he stopped and I snapped out of the dream-like trance he brought upon me.  A memory forever seared into my brain.

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After Semana Santa                                                                                                                   Although Semana Santa may be over, its presence echos for a while. Everything squeaks. For a couple days I thought it was just me, I thought I was imagining it, maybe the cars always made that noise I only just started recognizing it, maybe it was because the shoes I was wearing I hadn’t worn in a while; I asked my friends If any of them had noticed it and they had! A friend of mine said it was because of the wax left in the street from the processions, apparently it’s a known thing, but not once did I hear it mentioned.

Here’s a youtube video for more information and an interesting perspective (it’s in Spanish): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oo6MSTsTRJk&feature=youtu.be

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