Yesterday, April 1, 2018, marked a special holiday this year, Easter. This is my first time to celebrate a major holiday like Easter away from my family and in a whole other country than what I am used to. Holidays are celebrated differently all over the world, and Easter, or Pascua in Spanish, in Spain and the United States have their fair share of differences and also similarities.
When do Easter celebrations begin in Spain?
In Spain, Easter celebrations start a week earlier than what they do in the U.S. On March 25, the Sunday before Easter, Semana Santa, or Holy Week, begins. Semana Santa is a big deal in Spain, especially the city that I currently live in, Sevilla.
What is Semana Santa?
Semana Santa is a week of processions where members of Brotherhoods carry floats, pasos in Spanish, that are decorated with religious sculptures of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary through the streets. You always know a procession is starting when you see a giant cross in the front of a group of members of the Brotherhoods.
At first look, Americans are usually taken back by the outfits worn by the members of the Brotherhoods. I know I sure was. Why is that? Their outfits consist of dresses and long conical hats that cover the whole face. What does that remind you of in America? I’m sure I don’t have to explain it to you…One thing I actually learned though was that these hats have nothing to do with the Klu Klux Klan. Instead, these hats were originally worn during the time of the Spanish Inquisition by people found guilty of religious crimes. The brotherhood wears these hats because they are supposed to be shameful of their sins which they are repenting of during these processions.
This week is all about food, drinks, music, art, family, friends, the death and resurrection of Jesus and a way to repent for your sins. That is why the processions that you will see in the streets are called Penance Processions. It gives the people a way to “suffer” like Jesus did and repent of their sins. Many people “suffer” by following the processions barefoot or even sometimes hitting themselves with a whip like how Jesus was whipped. This is also why the members of the Brotherhood cover their faces because it is meant to be a sacred time solely between you and God, not for anyone else.
What special treats do Spaniards eat during Semana Santa?
There are two main sweet treats that Spaniards indulge in during this sacred week of Semana Santa. The first one is Torrijas and these are popular all throughout Spain. Torrijas is bread soaked in milk and egg, fried (using lots of Olive Oil of course) and finally topped with sugar or honey. To compare it to a dish from the United States, it basically reminds me of french toast.
The second sweet treat is Pestiños. Pestiños can be found throughout Spain, but they are mainly popular in Andalucia (where my home of Seville is located). They are basically just fried, sesame-flavored dough that is glazed with honey or sugar.
What was my Easter in Spain experience like?
Semana Santa was such an incredible experience. The pasos were beautiful and I could feel the passion that the whole city has during this week. I have never seen the streets of Seville so packed, but I loved seeing everyone dressed up in their “Sunday best” and in groups with their family and friends.
On the first day of Semana Santa, my host sister took me out and showed me how to celebrate like a local. She told me there are three types of people during Semana Santa: those who do not leave their houses, those who watch every single procession and love it and those who go to the bar to drink and spend time with their friends and family. We did a mix of the last two since I had never experienced this week before. I had such a great time and I am so thankful that she gave me the ‘local’ experience.
The rest of the week, I ventured out on my own to view the processions. Each one was incredibly beautiful from the Brotherhood members, statues of the Virgin Mary or Jesus Christ and the band following them. I am so thankful that I was in Seville during this special week.
My host mom even took me along with her to church on Santo Jueves, Holy Thursday. I am Baptist, so I was curious and nervous to experience mass. It was my very first experience at a Catholic Church in general and then, of course, the extra added fun that it was in Spanish. The church was breathtaking and I loved the beautiful service. I might not have understood all of it, but I could feel the love and passion that the people had in the room. The songs were beautiful and I loved every second of it. I miss my church at home, but the good thing is that God is God no matter where I am at.
Overall, this week was one that I will remember forever. Seville, you have my heart. Although my experience of Semana Santa is specific to Seville, that does not mean that the festivities are not as grand in other parts of the country. Spanish Sun Seeker has a great rundown of Semana Santa in Madrid and even a great guide of the other holidays you might encounter in the capital city of Spain.
Have you ever experienced Semana Santa in Spain? I would love to hear your experiences, comment below!