A cute bunny that sneaks into your house and fills baskets with chocolate. Hooded processionals through the streets and fiestas until the sun comes up. It seems impossible that both of these could celebrate the same holiday. A holiday rooted in religion and lost in tradition. A holiday that in the United States lasts one day for most, is a holiday in Spain that lasts ten glorious days for all. In Spain, Holy Week and Easter take on a whole new meaning.
People in Spain look forward to Semana Santa like Americans look forward to Christmas or summer vacation. Semana Santa simply means “holy week” in Spanish. Holy week is a celebration of the last week of Jesus’s life, his death, and his resurrection. Christians throughout the world celebrate the holiday, but depending on where you are it looks slightly different. In Spain, Easter isn’t about bunnies and colorful eggs but rather slightly creepy yet beautiful processionals and fiestas.
Throughout the week there are processions through the streets that, as a foreigner, are shocking at a glance, and not in a good way. To clear the air around the outfits, there is absolutely zero connection to the Klu Klux Klan. There have been some speculations that the KKK took the idea for their outfits from the processionals but there is no evidence. It’s a bit alarming not to see anyone’s face, but their faces are covered as a form of penance for their sins. Their sins have not yet been forgiven by the death of Jesus.
I ran into a bit of confusion around the meaning of the cone shaped hats. Taking the time to ask a man on the street the significance of the cone shaped hats, he told me that it was believed that the hats narrowed one’s thoughts toward God. Upon coming home and asking my host dad, José Luque, the same question all he said was “it’s tradition!”, which seemed to be his answer to most of my questions surrounding Semana Santa.
My frustration with the simplicity of his answer was quickly squashed when I began to think about how Easter is celebrated in the States. We have our own Easter symbols and traditions, such as the bunny representing fertility and Easter eggs. To an outsider this would probably seem very strange and if asked about it the best answer I would likely come up with is, it’s tradition. I received an Easter card in the mail from my mom earlier this week, and the card displayed two bunnies on the cover. Upon telling my host parents that it was an Easter card, they were confused why there were rabbits on it.
I told them that little kids at Easter take pictures with bunnies, eat chocolate rabbits, and that the rabbit is a symbol of Easter. The chocolate rabbits seemed to ring a bell for them but they were quick to tell me that those don’t exist here, only chocolate eggs. According to José, “Eggs are symbol of re-birth and you can find them in some stores but it’s rare because we have better treats. The best eggs are the hand-painted ones, you can’t eat those.” His reminder of the re-birth reminded me that what all our Easter celebrations have in common is the resurrection of Jesus.
Most Easters I spend with my family. Every year we fill baskets with treats and hide them. Once it’s morning we all hunt for our baskets in hopes of finding goodies galore. Filled with joy, we dress for mass in our best and brightest colors. Towards the end of mass thoughts of the big brunch following typically consume me. This year I celebrated Easter a little differently.
There was no excitement of finding an Easter basket or a festive brunch. Instead, just mass followed by processionals. Beautiful processionals that, unlike the rest of the week, are focused on the glory of the risen Christ. Faces were no longer covered for all sins have been forgiven and church bells ring relentlessly to spread the good news. Standing on the side of the street after mass I was filled with joy and only a small part of me was still wishing for a chocolate bunny.
The culture in Spain is saturated with Christianity that runs so deep that people forget the small symbols and it all just becomes a tradition. While at the root of the celebration is religion, it is such a way of life here that it doesn’t feel like religion at all. Different traditions for the same holiday, celebrating the same story that’s been told since the dawn of time. Bunnies and eggs or robes and fiesta, we all celebrate the same resurrection.