Semana Santa

My mom, grandmother (Yiayia), and godmother just left from a girls’ week in Spain! We traveled to Madrid, Toledo, Sevilla, Granada, and Barcelona. Having already been to all but Barcelona, I was their personal tour guide and translator, compensated with new clothes and leftover euros. Seeing as I buy frozen yogurt almost everyday after class (and know the workers at multiple stands), I accepted this generous donation to the Mandy froyo fund with open arms.

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The trip went smoothly, except for the $150 worth of ham confiscated on the way home

When I was younger, I wanted only two things in life:  a pony and a pool. My parents sort of filled the pony square when they made me settle for a baby sister (love you, Sarah), but the pool dream never quite came to fruition. I remember always bringing it up to my dad, playing the guilt card every summer of course – he wouldn’t want his little girl to be the only kid on the block without one, right? So went my plan of attack. His response was always the same, though. First he’d mutter off something about how we wouldn’t see the investment once we sold our house in the future (which made no sense to me), and then he’d promise me that the novelty would wear off. Once I had it, I’d take it for granted and it wouldn’t mean nearly as much. Better to mooch off of the neighbors’, because I wouldn’t think twice about it if we built one.

The problem with becoming acclimated to the degree that I am here – living, rather than touring – is that I sometimes forget in the hustle and bustle of my schedule to stop, sit, and take a minute to treasure what I’ve been blessed with. I think there is some truth to this in all aspects of life; we become so accustomed to what we have that we exist instead of live. I often allow my daily life to become nothing more than a monotonous routine, forgetting to take a breather and appreciate the beautiful and meaningful, no matter how big or small. If having family visit this past week for Semana Santa (Holy Week) did anything, it was to reinvigorate my sense of gratitude for everything this experience has given me. I was able to take in Spain through their fresh eyes, ears, and taste buds, and get giddy with the travel buzz all over again. And wow, what an unbelievable week we had and country this is.

We not only experienced the tourist highlights and some of my personal favorite spots (particularly in my home of Granada), but also all of the week-long events dedicated to Holy Week. Cities around the country, particularly Sevilla and Granada, put on processions rooted deep in Catholic tradition to commemorate and recreate the passion, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ. While each city has its own distinguished celebrations, most involve multiple daily parades from Palm Sunday to Easter through the streets and cathedrals, featuring intensely adorned floats, bands, and costumed penitents. I learned in class that this custom actually dates back to the Middle Ages in Spain. Peasants under the feudal system at this time were illiterate, and the church used these liturgical representations to visually teach and/or retell stories of the Bible. The processions are put on by various church societies/religious brotherhoods. My host sister belongs to one, and pays steep dues all year just to participate in one Semana Santa procession.

Semana Santa processions in Granada

Processions in Granada – pointed hats are completely unrelated to the KKK, rookie mistake

In comparing the celebration of Easter in Spain to that in the United States, the sense of community struck me most. It seems to me that the holiday in the U.S. is much more familial, whereas this felt like a communal 4th of July celebration. The prevalence and involvement of the Church amazed me as well. It sounds silly to describe the U.S. celebration of Easter as sometimes “secular,” but I think that this is true to a degree – the death and resurrection of Christ is often triumphed by colored eggs and excessive candy. Here, the country is largely united by one common religion: Catholicism. It amazed me to see such hoards of people in the streets at all hours of the day and night, so immersed the experience, straining to see the passing figures of Christ and the Virgin Mary. The focus appeared to be entirely religious, and was accordingly much more somber.

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The more traditional Spanish regions of Castilla and Andalucia

For me, the most impressive and poignant procession was in Granada at 12 a.m. on Good Friday to depict Christ’s death. Called “Del Silencio,” the procession involved just that: silence. I stood huddled with my mom in the crowd of people in Granada’s Plaza Nueva at midnight, when all of a sudden everyone started going “SHH, silencio”. All of the city lights were turned off and a hush went over the enormous crowd. Descending from the Albaicin and Carrera del Darro, one of the most scenic and famous streets of Granada (shown in the bottom rectangular photo in the second collage above), was a parade of penitents dressed in black capes, holding candles, a cross, and a figure of Christ deceased. While other earlier processions involved marching bands and loud music, the only thing that could be heard in this one was a single drum: bum-bum, bum, bum-bum. I’ll never forget that rhythm. I learned later that there are words that go along to the beat: “Dón-de es-ta-rá, dón-de es-ta-rá, el rey de los cielos, lo vamos a matar” – “Where is he, where is he, the king of the heavens, we are going to kill”. No fluffy bunnies or Peeps involved. Here is a video of a past procession (“Del Silencio” in 2011) to get a better idea.

That’s all for now! It’s unbelievable how fast this semester is flying – it was so hard to say goodbye to my mom, but even harder to fathom that I have less than two months left. I’m off to Sevilla again next weekend with the BeE group, and look forward to sharing more soon!

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Cosmopolitan city of Barcelona, in Catalunya

2 Responses to “Semana Santa”

  1. manuel says:

    Very well written, Mandy.

    I am sorry about the Spanish ham.

    But it’s good that you know that you can purchase it in the US. If you need help with this in the future please let me know.
    Manuel Delgado

  2. Patti Ayers says:

    Well written Mandy. Spain is such a beautiful country! You chose the perfect place to study abroad. Enjoy the rest of your stay there. There’s no doubt in my mind that you will be back to visit some day!


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