Hispanic culture is well known for its colourful and vibrant celebrations, from El Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) to La Tomatina (Tomato Throwing Festival). One celebration in particular stands out above the rest, a true spectacle stemming from catholic religious tradition dating as far back as the 16th Century.
Wherever you may go to witness it, Semana Santa, or Spanish holy week, offers incredible visual displays, from the intricate and vivid alfombras (carpets made of flowers that adorn the streets) to the elaborate giant floats that make up the spectacular processions. Everyone should try and experience this phenomenon at least once in their lifetime.
Semana Santa is predominantly celebrated worldwide in Hispanic catholic countries during the last week of Lent, between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. During this holy week, families come together to pay their respects by attending Easter vigils and mass. The tradition originated from the Catholic Church which sought to commemorate the life, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ in a way that people could relate to.
Each day, Hermandad (meaning brotherhood), usually garbed in nazareno (traditional, colourful costumes with distinct pointed hats) form processions carrying heavy, lavishly decorated floats which portray biblical figures such as Jesus and Virgin Mary. Many walk barefoot, sometimes for up to 14 hours. The hard, laborious work symbolises the pain and suffering that Jesus endured. Faces are covered to hide individual identities of the Hermandad whilst they serve out their penance.
Rows of chairs line the streets to accommodate the large numbers of spectators that attend, with younger and older generations usually seated towards the front. Locals like to make a special effort to dress up for the occasion, and can usually be seen wearing elegant dresses or fine suits.
Each country has its own individual celebrations, with most Spanish cities differing from each other. The Andalusia region of Spain is especially famous for its spectacular celebrations, particularly in Seville and Malaga, where music such as Flamenco (or saeta as it is known during the procession) is played with an explosive intensity. Cuenca adds it’s own twist by hosting religious music concerts within historic buildings such as cathedrals. Salamanca’s impressive historical centre’s monuments play an important part in its processions while in Cartegena, thousands of people join together in song to recite the Salve Maria.
Many communities serve traditional foods such as torrijas (fried bread dipped in milk and egg or sometimes wine) that comes served with honey or cinnamon sugar. Eating meat is prohibited on Catholic holy days which means fish dishes such as Bacalao (salt cod) are extremely popular.
Semana Santa has far reaching cultural and historic significance in addition to its religious heritage. The traditions and customs associated with the observance have been handed down between generations, establishing themselves firmly within cultural identity.
While Semana Santa reflects the teachings of Jesus Christ, it also serves as a reminder to all of us of the importance of faith and sacrifice and living a life of kindness and compassion towards others. It brings people from different backgrounds and cultures together in celebration of a common faith.
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