Semana Santa

Semana Santa, but where’s Santa?

Semana Santa, that mental festival where everyone dresses up in funny cloaks and pointy hats and scares all the non-religious people out of the city, has come round again.

Cristo de Burgos
El Cristo de Burgos leaving the church in San Pedro. I’m in this procession, but not this year! Photo by ErKillo

I’ve got mixed feelings about it this year. I was all up for doing my procession, or penitence, but things haven’t worked out. I’ve participated in the Cristo de Burgos for the last 6 years (yes, I wear a cloak and a funny pointy hat) apart from one year when I flew back to Blighty just after my son was born. So, unfortunately, because I’m quite proud of wearing my cloak and pointy hat, I won’t be participating. My suegro (father-in-law) has had a bad leg for a while and my cuñao (brother-in-law) is working in Malaga and can’t get the time off.

If I had more balls, then I’d do it on my own. For at least 6 hours of it I am, technically, alone, apart from the 500 or so other Nazarenos. But going to the church alone, being inside alone, and leaning against the pillars when we return to the church in San Pedro to relieve the severe back pain on my own, just seems too much.

Being part of a 3 century year old procession is an honour too. I don’t know of any other guiris actually in one, so if you are then get in touch. Most expats and teachers I know are not all that up for it and most try to get away for the week and escape the scariness.

If I wasn’t living out in the sticks I’d probably just do it. But it’s the whole journey of going from here (Mairena, about 10km away) on the metro with all my gear (I carry the cloak and pointy hat, even though I thought I was going to wear it last year, until I realised no other Nazareno was dressed up on the metro). Plus I have to get a cab home after too, so I won’t arrive until about 3am. And knowing that my son has a habit of running in with whatever his latest favourite toy is and smashing me on the conker with it, has swayed my decision to give it a miss this year.

Deep down I’m pretty gutted, but I can still enjoy the festival. I love Semana Santa though: the atmosphere, the music, the jamón, beers, smell of incense, bumping into my students and feeling popular, the goosebumps, and the special memories I have.

While watching processions I spend most of my time reminiscing. I think back to when I first got to know my wife properly during my first Holy Week, and starting to know her family too. Also one year my Dad was over for it, and another year my mum too when my daughter was born, so each procession that I’ve seen always holds special memories.

At least I’ll be in form for the Madrugada though. I’m often knackered after doing the procession on the Wednesday, but this year I’ve been given permission to go and watch the most spectacular part on Thursday night through to Friday morning. Once the kids are wrapped up in bed I’ll be out and about, probably to see El Silencio, El Gran Poder, and if I can Los Gitanos, which are my 3 favourites. My plan is to come home, have a kip, and then go back again; this time with my wife and kids, to catch one or two in the morning, but as most things in life now, it’s not as easy with kids.

Take yesterday for example. Domingo Ramos. Every year that we lived in the centre, it was a doddle. We met up with family for lunch, then went out and saw a few processions, but now it’s a whole different ball game. Firstly it took us 2 hours to get ready. Then we had to get the metro in, with our packed lunches, bags, and the pram. On the metro we had to fold up the pram to make room for the thousand other prams (when I was kid free I always used to curse the people with prams, but now I totally get it; you try carrying a 18kg son about all day).

It was actually less busy than I thought it would be. I was expecting to get mobbed, squashed into the corner with my kids screaming, but we had a seat and getting off wasn’t too bad, just a minute extra in the queue at the other side.

Seeing the processions for the first real time with my son was special. It was tricky to explain the concept of Semana Santa to him though. There’s no way a 3 year old would understand the concept of a weekly procession to remember what Jesus did. In fact, when I first watched processions on the tele, he came up with a tricky question.

“This is Semana Santa,” I said as a Virgen came out the church hiding behind some candles.
“Papi,” he said (a name which I hate him calling me).
“Daddy, yeah?”
“But where’s Santa?”
He stumped me. It was a great question and one that had never even crossed my mind before. All I could come up with was.
“He’s sleeping.”
“Because that night in Christmas took it right out of him, so he’s still tired.”

Photo by glezserna

Pure innocence. He was fascinated by the drums though, and spent the next 2 days asking when we were going to see the drums.

When we finally turned up to watch La Paz, round by the Parque Maria Luisa, he was blown away by the bands. The look on his face of pure joy as the drums went passed did clog up my throat a little. In my first Semana Santa the music had moved me rather than the actual pasos. Seeing his little face lit up was a dream.

That was at about 2pm, and it was heating up, so after a break back at the in-laws gaff, we set off again to see La Estrella.

Stupidly we picked one of the longest processions of the day, and arrived just as the Cruz de Guia (the first main cross) got over the bridge. So we had to watch the whole thing. Well, we didn’t have to, but my son was then all set on getting as many sweets as possible from the Nazarenos, and my daughter was hell bent on organising them in her own special way in the pram. So we stayed, on the bridge, hot, sweaty, tired, for about an hour.

It was worth the wait though. Just as the Christ got to the end of the bridge it stopped, then the band played some lovely music as it continued down towards the city. I must have had about 5 or 6 sets of goosebumps as it went along, mainly because I was there now with my son on my shoulders and my wife holding our daughter. It was a lovely moment, and one that I knew we wouldn’t beat today, which is why we didn’t bother to go into the centre and just chilled at home and went to the park up the road (a massive bonus of living out of the centre during Semana Santa; you can chose when you see it, not the other way round).

The worst part of the day was getting back. Walking from el Puente de Triana and up to Plaza Cuba carrying my daughter in the 30 degree was a penitence in itself, the only consolation was that she did give me several kisses- without me asking. For the trip home on the metro my son began to question about Semana Santa though.

“Daddy, yeah?”
“Where was Santa?”
“He was tired mate.”
“Because he probably spent the afternoon watching pasos, and that just wears you out.”
“Okay. Can we see the drums again tomorrow?”

“If you’re a good boy.”

“Thanks, Daddy.”


Great things about Spain, Semana Santa, Seville

6 phrases to survive Semana Santa

It’s that time again; Holy week is just round the corner. Semana Santa in Sevilla is about to kick off when hundreds of Nazarenos form in their processions while on a penitence, thousands of spectators absorb the atmosphere while throwing their pipas – seed shells, on the floor, and plenty of Sevillanos cry while their Christs or Virgens pass, or because their procession gets cancelled due to rain.

Whether you love or hate Semana Santa, you can’t live in Sevilla without being affected by the craziness that surrounds this immense festival. Personally, I’m a massive fan (I even participate in a procession, one of the benefits of being married to a Sevillana whose family are members of a brotherhood), at least until the Friday, by then I’ve usually had enough and can’t wait to back to normality, go to bed at a reasonable time, and be able to walk around the city without planning several hours in advance.

If you’re sticking around to watch the processions this year, or are coming over as a visitor, then here are a few expressions that might come in useful as you are out and about watching pasos or having a beer with some locals.

Semana santa virgin
Esta preciosa… Photo by albert besselse

‘Esta preciosa’ – ‘She’s beautiful’

You can use this one while, or just after, a Virgin passes, especially La Macarena, although to her you’d be better off shouting ‘Guapa, Guapa,’ like her followers do. I’m not a huge admirer of the Virgin processions. Even after all these years they seem pretty similar, I know they’re not, but once you’ve seen one hundred, you think you’ve seen them all, or just the same one a hundred times. I’m more eager to wait around an hour, or even two, to see a decent Christ procession though. That’s where the passion and excitement lies for me, especially as La Madrugada approaches. Continue reading “6 phrases to survive Semana Santa”

Annoying things in Spain, Semana Santa

What I won’t miss about Semana Santa

Following on from last week’s blog about why I’ll miss Semana Santa, here are a few reasons why I’m actually glad not to be there this year.

Semana Santa - waiting around
Waiting around in la Madrugada. Photo by Machbel

Waiting around

I do love Semana Santa, but at times I get frustrated and annoyed that we have to wait so long for the processions. I don’t mind the walking about and finding new places to see certain processions, but it’s the standing around that does my head in. Especially if you get caught up in a place where people decide to use you as a mini gate way for a short cut, which often seems to happen as I’m a guiri. The waiting can be fun if you’re having a beer or something, or if you feel fresh as its early in the day, but when it’s late and you’ve been walking about all day and your calves are aching and you just want to go home and have a kip, then it can get tiring. There’s not much that’s going to change though. If anything the processions are going to get longer as the years go on, not shorter. Continue reading “What I won’t miss about Semana Santa”

Great things about Spain, Semana Santa

What I will, and won’t, miss about Semana Santa in Sevilla

There’s one aspect of Sevilla that has really had an impact on me over the years: Semana SantaHoly Week. The relationship I have with this festival is much like one with a new girlfriend: one minute I’m filled with joy, and the next I’m banging my head against the wall. This year, unfortunately, or fortunately, I won’t be around to enjoy the festival. It’s the first time I’ll miss it since I became a member of a brotherhood. Here are a few reasons why I’ll miss it.

The Atmosphere

Semana Santa1
Calm before the storm – Las Sillas Photo by emildom75

The brass bands following the processions around the city make a fantastic atmosphere. I love how they play to the steps of the Christ or Virgin and make them look as though they are moving along with the music. Highlights of the week are when processions have to fit through tight gaps in the narrow streets and the music inspires the costelleros (the guys carrying the weight) to keep marching, and normally spread goosebumps through the crowd of people watching. Over the years I’ve managed to pick up a few tunes and I have my favourites. I couldn’t tell you the names, but I know how to whistle the tune (which often annoys the hell out of my wife).

This year Semana Santa is a bit late, so the smell of azahar – orange blossom – has almost passed. But the sweet aroma always adds to the occasion. One year my Dad came over and as a present my father-in-law wrapped up some blossom in a box so my Dad could take it back for my Mum as a present. It lasted the whole journey and when my Mum opened the box she almost started crying because of the powerful scent.

The crowds add to the spectacle too. It’s about the only time of year when I do tolerate having lots of people about (most of the time, see the next blog). The passion of the Sevillanos is impressive. The way they gather outside churches, in squares, up trees and lamp posts, and pack up the ancient cobbled streets is always bewildering. Continue reading “What I will, and won’t, miss about Semana Santa in Sevilla”