Semana Santa is the name of the Spanish Holy Week, an annual religious events that honors the 'Passion of Jesus Christ', which is the term given to the last days of Jesus' life, including the time in which he enters the city of Jerusalem, his sharing of the Last Supper with his disciples, his betrayal by Judas Iscariot, and ultimately his arrest and execution by crucifixion. Essentially, this is a very similar celebration to Easter, occurring in the final week of Lent, which leads up to the day of Easter itself.
The Semana Santa celebrations are well known around the world as one of Spain's most iconic religious holidays. The Holy Week dates way back to the 16th century and is still celebrated each and every year, with the idea behind being that the Catholic Church wanted to display the story of the Passion of Jesus Christ in an easy-to-understand yet grandiose form, that everyone could understand and appreciate. Places in Spain
Semana Santa Celebrations
Each and every year, many small and large cities around Spain celebrate the Semana Santa, with each region and town having its own ideas and celebrations that mostly consist of a series of parades and processions through the city streets, with various floats and stands depicting scenes from the final stages of Christ's life. The vast majority of these processions are organized and performed by various brotherhoods that have existed in Spain for centuries and open for entry to all Catholics.
Cities in the Andalusia region of Spain like Malaga, Granada, Lebrija, and Seville are well known for organizing some of the largest and most eye-catching processions, while more subdued displays, which some religious people tend to prefer, can be found in cities like Zamora, Salamanca, and Valladolid. Semana Santa processions can also be found in Spain's capital of Madrid and other major cities like Barcelona, as well as out on the Canary Islands.
Every procession is different, but they do all tend to follow many of the same rules and themes. Each day of Semana Santa in the typical Spanish city will feature one procession from each brotherhood, and there may be several dozen brotherhoods per city. Brotherhoods usually run two floats each, one of which will depict Christ and a scene from his life, while the second will show his mother, the Virgin Mary, and her often tearful reaction to events.
It's important to note that this isn't a typical parade with floats on wheels or mechanical system; these floats are mostly carried by hand by strong men from each brotherhood, each wearing unique capes and hoods. The processions can last many hours, meaning that these men risk injury and suffer a lot each day, but this is part of the experience as it allows the men to experience some fraction of the pain that Christ himself felt during the Passion. For this reason, members of a brotherhood will actually be very happy and honored to learn that they are going to be carrying a float during Semana Santa.
As well as the processions and floats, music may also be a part of the Semana Santa celebrations in certain areas. This particularly occurs in the Andalusia region, where people will appear on balconies along the sides of the city streets and begin singing traditional Spanish flamenco songs. In the past, these songs were simply an unplanned way of people expressing their strong emotions as they saw the floats pass by, but many of them are now planned out in certain cities to add another layer to the celebrations.
Important Information and Best Places for Semana Santa
It's important to note that the dates of Semana Santa are different each year. So if you happen to be planning a trip to Spain to take part in Semana Santa celebrations, you need to do your research and be aware of the correct dates. It's also important to know that the celebrations will start earlier in some cities than others. Places in Castilla-Leon, for instance, will feature longer Semana Santa celebrations than Andalusian locations.
As with any trip to Spain, it's good to base oneself in a major city like Madrid, Seville, or Barcelona, and then travel out to enjoy Semana Santa celebrations in different cities over the course of the week. This is, of course, a fully outdoor event and rain will pose a major hazard to the floats, so it's vital to check the forecast and plan accordingly too. As previously mentioned, cities like Malaga and Granada will have the flashiest processions, but for a more 'realistic' and less 'commercial' Semana Santa experience, Castilla-Leon cities may be a better choice.