The Holy Week (Semana Santa) processions will be the largest religious festival in the catholic world and happen from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday with the processions occurring on five days from the seven. The festival is quite big in Spain and especially in Andalusia where Semana Santa is really a huge event involving whole cities, towns and villages. Seville and Malaga will be the two most well-known places to start to see the spectacle and, in the spring of 2001, I was fortunate to invest Holy week in Malaga and take notice of the centuries old tradition first hand.
The processions, the initial of which occurs on Palm Sunday, happen on five evenings of the week making their way slowly on the pilgrimage round the city. The processions are organised by the religious brotherhoods (“confradias” in Spanish) who each carry an enormous “tronos” (a massive float) depicting various religious scenes – from Christ on the cross to the virgin Mary. The “tronos” are lavishly adorned with plush fabric and candles, having undergone months of preparation prior to the event. Each “tronos” is along with a band playing the normal mournful dirges of Semana Santa. Occasionally the floats can make an end to sing the “saeta” – a maudlin flamenco hymn which further increases the solemnity of the occasion.
What’s immediately striking to a spectator may be the large amount of hard physical work needed by the “hombres de trono” (float bearers) to transport their huge burden. The purpose of this, when i saw it, would be to provide empathy for the sufferings which Christ had to bear within their name – the faith and commitment of the “confradias” is inspiring whatever you’re religious leaning. Behind the float is normally an army of family and friends, there to supply support, food and water once the float involves a halt and the bearers have to be able to catch their breath for 5 minutes.
One more thing that’s immediately striking concerning the festivities may be the great selection of individuals who line the streets. Different generations stand shoulder to shoulder bearing the “tronos” and kids and grandparents alike jostle for position at the roadside. It is possible to sense the continuity and the way the festival is massively vital that you the neighborhood community. Another refreshing site may be the quantity of youngsters involved, be it in the bands, following processions making use of their families or just looking on excitedly from the curb. The buzz from their excitement is infectious because they run around collecting wax from the a huge selection of candles and making them into huge balls, attempting to go bigger and much better than the kid close to them.
This is a strange experience in lots of ways, far taken off the Carnival atmosphere of all Spanish fiestas – this is not the festival to come quickly to in order to party forever. Whilst in Malaga my days contains a little bit of beach going (it isn’t quite around temperature at Easter for the locals, but us sun-starved Brits require no second invitation to don the Speedo’s), exploring Malaga’s languid white-washed streets and many tapas bars and consuming the processions by night (interspersed with several bar stop-offs and a late meal somewhere across the line). The meals, the people, a lovely city; it’s all there to take pleasure from and there is no better time than during Semana Santa.
Finally probably the most striking part for me personally is that Malaga is among Spain’s largest cities, with over one million inhabitants, yet for Semana Santa it appears the town shrinks. The tiny town atmosphere and the sense of community are tangible and imbue the town having an electric buzz for the week long festival.