S is 17 years old, and lived in Sevilla, Spain for four years. I had a conversation with him about Semana Santa, a week-long religious procession that’s celebrated in the Andalucían province of Spain. During Semana Santa, antique wooden sculptures are carried throughout the city, each float representing a part of the biblical journey of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial.
“Semana Santa is like a holy week in Spain, where they do a big parade, and it’s very, very exciting, because they close off all the streets and everybody lines up to catch snacks and sunflower seeds. It’s a very magical time because everything smells like incense and they got funky outfits on and they’re just being holy and stuff. So it was a very 10-out-of-10 week. Many of the processioners wore a white robe with a colored pointed hat. They also had people dressed up as priests and stuff. Well, there were actual priests too. And there were nuns, and then people carrying big crosses and lanterns and doohickeys. They also had a big band playing and marching along. And on the floats they had very religious statues like the Virgin Mary and Jesus.”
This account of someone’s experience at a Semana Santa (“Holy Week”) reveals some of the ways that religious holidays can stagnate between a celebration of faith and a celebration of culture. For this person, Semana Santa was an opportunity to have fun and absorb the culture of the city, while for other Catholic practitioners, Semana Santa can be intrinsic to their religious identity. There’s a bit of magic and allure to the procession itself—antique wooden statues that tell the story of Jesus’ death, which is a very somber event in the Christian diaspora. All of the decorations and Spanish details bring a unity to the city, inviting groups together to enjoy a procession that’s both symbolic of national pride and religious holiday.