I’ve been living as an English Teacher in Spain for the better part of five years, and if I’m capable of finding something different around the corner after this long, then I found myself in a country that’s tantamount to a classic film. There’s always something different around the corner, and Semana Santa (Holy Week) is the time of the year when those differences come out in a week of solemn processions, and local traditions. Celebrating (or in my case, observing) Semana Santa feels very different depending on where I see it. So, where do you want to do it? Perhaps you want to stay in Madrid, and have a bit of a staycation. Maybe you want to go south to Andalusia, where some of the more famous variations of the festival have dazzled and bewildered tourists for decades. Maybe some of the lesser-known towns in Castilla y Leon is your ticket. I’ll talk about both parts of the country, and I’ll leave it entirely up to you.
I’m fortunate enough to live in the City Centre, so when Holy Week gets started, I’m smack in the middle of it. It’s great. I’ll be making dinner, and then the procession will start. DOMINGO DE RAMOS (Palm Sunday) is the event that gets things going. It starts at the Basilica Pontificia de San Miguel, and the parade goes through the streets outside. Locals might buy some palm branches or bay leaves to commemorate Jesus’ entrance into the city of Jerusalem. Needless to say, the streets are packed with onlookers, tourists, and procession participants. As the week continues through to Easter Sunday, there are around twenty processions in Madrid’s City Centre. Holy Thursday (Jueves Santo) is probably one of my favorites. It’s great. I’ll be passing through Plaza Mayor, and looking right down Calle Toledo, and I’ll see it come out of Catedral de San Isidro. For you TEFL Teachers, or would be TEFL instructors who are coming here, this is a classic view point, especially when you see a centuries-old tradition in front of you. You’ll see participants (the ‘costaleros’), coming out through the doors of the school, adjacent to the church. These guys are pretty much on their knees holding the images of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary. The crowd outside encourages them to keep going. Every time I see them, I’m not surprised to see an entire crowd cheering them on. The Easter Processions of Good Friday and Easter Sunday brings crowds to Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol and Plaza Cibeles. You won’t be able to walk outside without smelling incense. The Easter Sunday procession is definitely something that I’ve come to respect. The ‘Tamborada del Domingo de Resureccion’ sees an assembly of drums gathered in the very centre of Plaza Mayor, and the thunderous rhythm that ensues thereafter almost shakes the very ground you’re standing on. This is a re-enactment of the earth tremors that may have happened the moment Christ died on the cross in Golgotha. I’m not a religious person, by any stretch, but to be honest with you, I had to admire the commitment that Madrilenos put into the re-creation of Jesus’ life and death with these processions. If I’m in Madrid during Holy Week, I always make sure to take this in.
Because I live in Madrid, and work there as an English Teacher, I’ll clearly have a lot to say about the happenings in that town, but being in Spain for a couple of years has given me the chance to experience its diversity. I’m probably not the first person to say this, but there are great differences between provinces especially during Semana Santa. For example, Andalusia, a place that I visit every chance that I get, has within its provincial boundaries some of the most charming visuals I have ever seen in my life. That in itself is an experience to take in. Now, add the ambiance of Holy Week. I think you get the idea. Who says TEFL Teachers can’t have eye-opening experiences when they’re not teaching TEFL students? Sevilla is partially famous for its Semana Santa processions. The most famous of these processions in Sevilla is the Madruga. This starts a little after midnight on Good Friday, and lasting, from time to time, into midday. If you’re in Sevilla, this is a must-do, even if it means getting through the crowd. Cadiz is another great option for anyone looking to experience something different. Typically, Semana Santa is celebrated with a lot of great vigour, drama, and passion. If you go down to Cadiz, make sure to check out some of the neighboring towns to get something a little regional. Jerez de la Frontera, where some processions that take place here date back to the 15th century, make a stop at the town’s central cathedral, which is known as the station of penitence, while honouring Christ’s crucifixion. Granada, a must-see at any time of the year, is also something to take in. The Albayzin on Holy Thursday sees the neighborhood as the staging point for the costaleros carrying ‘Nuestro Padre Jesus del Perdon and Maria Santisima de la Aurora’ through the neighborhood’s narrow, winding streets. It is puzzling, and amazing to watch, especially after having that all-too necessary cup of tea from one of the cafés nearby. Now, spending Holy Week in any of these towns is a wonder in themselves, but if I have to choose as to which one is my personal favorite, I would have to choose Cordoba. It’s not like Cordoba doesn’t have the unique charm that any other European village has. It’s how the people of Cordoba carry out their processions that really got to me. Madrid, Sevilla, Granada, Cadiz – indeed all of these towns celebrated Semana Santa with music. It was more of a fiesta than a funeral procession. In Cordoba, the processions are done silently. There is no music. The people watch, and mourn the death of Jesus Christ. It felt like a real funeral when I was there. So, with Andalusia, probably one of Spain’s most famous and dramatic regions, you see all manner of ways the country celebrates (or mourns) the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Castilla y Leon
I think I may have mentioned that every region of the country has their own way of celebrating Holy Week. The only thing that they all have in common is that they show the various stages of Christ’s crucifixion and subsequent resurrection, and that all of the processions are organized by religious brotherhoods. One of the things about As you start to get into the north of the country, you see places that aren’t typically travelled by tourists, and so a lot of what happens here is a bit more obscure to people who aren’t local. Valladolid, the “Sermon of the Seven Words” is spoken in Plaza Mayor. Later on, locals take part in the Passion Procession, which sees thirty-one statues passing through the town, most of which date back to the 16th century. If you’re in Salamanca on Good Friday, all the convents and churches are open and free to the public, so you can go inside to get a closer look at the daily life of the clergy in Spain. The statues and costumes in Salamanca are among the most colorful, so the processions here are definitely not to be missed. In Avila, one procession, known as the El Cristo de los Ajusticiados, goes around its famed medieval wall on Good Friday. In Burgos, if you’re there on Holy Monday, you’ll see the Stations of the Cross starting from the Cathedral all the way up to the surrounding hillside.
What if I told you that what I described right now in my five years as a TEFL Teacher was not even scratching the surface? It’s incredible what you could open yourself up to if you give yourself the chance. Between the grapes at New Year’s, or the celebration of the Three Kings a week after, or the number of ways the peoples of Spain celebrate Easter, I know I’ve already seen a lot, but in many ways, I haven’t even started yet. The number of villages I’ve never seen, and the many ways that you could spend your week off from giving one TEFL class after another is astounding. I’m certainly used to the traditions in Canada, but when I see the variety from what I initially perceived to be singular (especially before I came out here), it always surprises me, and it makes me happy knowing that I still have a lot to learn about the place that I now call my home. To the English Teachers in Spain, don’t hesitate to experience what you haven’t seen yet. You’ll be thankful that you did.