Note: This post was originally published March 14th, 2017. After hitting submit I was plagued by the horrible feeling I had done myself and my readers a disservice by veering away from my typical writing style to provide “more useful” information. That didn’t sit well with me. This blog is not called, “Informative Jennie,” it is Whoajennie for a reason. Instead of doing this half way, let’s give this another go and see if after this rewrite I can finally sleep a little better. Or at least quit having a gagging sensation when I think of this post. Semana Santa is far too special to half-ass my post about it. For your reading pleasure, I bring you my second shot at this, my post about Semana Santa in Sevilla, Spain. ♥
We are a few short weeks from Palm Sunday and the start of Semana Santa across Spain – most notably in Sevilla.
Will you be there?
Are you trying to decide if making the trip is worth it?
Keep reading because I promise to do my best to convey the intensity of Semana Santa and hope to entice you to experience it for yourself. You won’t be sorry!
Sometimes I am overwhelmed with gratitude for our landlord in Sevilla as I originally had plans to return home before Holy Week. When I initially inquired about his beautiful loft he suggested staying through Semana Santa and after a quick Google search to discover what in the world he was even talking about (gasp, I had no idea) I knew he was right. It was our first big Airbnb win!
Semana Santa is a celebration of Holy Week like nothing I’ve ever seen in the United States. Each year it commences with Palm Sunday and concludes with Easter. It is a week when time seems to stand still in the areas of competition, careers, gains and losses etc and instead the people within Sevilla choose to embrace everything that makes life worth living: their faith, their families, their friends, their culture, food, music, wine and love. They glorify these things for a week and do so in a marvelous, admirable way.
Even weeks before the celebration of Holy Week kicked off we noticed changes in the city as the entire population began to prepare. Men practiced carrying the pasos (floats) on the weekend outside our loft. We were alerted to their practice by the sound of heaving grunts and large sighs. They lifted, stepped, turned and released in perfect unison. We silently watched from our living room windows as though we were privy to a secret society performing a ritual no one had ever witnessed, the scent of orange blossoms wafting through the open windows. We noted the padding some of them wore to allow the wood to rest on their bodies and I was moved to tears thinking of how amazing it must be to take part in these traditions. It was surreal to see it happening right in front of us. Little did we know we were feeling a fraction of the intensity of the actual Semana Santa.
As the big week began we were blown away by the change in appearance of the entire city. A level of energy could be felt coursing through the city and every time we turned a corner I expected to see and experience something new. Rarely was I disappointed. Isn’t this what celebrating the Resurrection should be? Shouldn’t it always be a deluge of love and gratitude wrapped in gold and topped off with hundreds of candles? I think so too.
There were people everywhere; local Sevillians, visitors pouring in from all over Europe and travelers from the world over could be heard speaking in their native tongues on ever corner and in ever cafe. Typically I am concerned about my children in large crowds but not these crowds. The local people saw my little blonde and wee redhead and immediately knew we were not from the local area. Each time we attended a procession the local people lovingly coaxed my children and their American friends to the front of the throngs of onlookers so they could see, first hand, the beauty that was passing by at a slow pace with both grace and intensity. Men and women alike encouraged the children to touch the pasos and to collect candy that was being handed out by children included in the procession.
Spanish children in the crowd clutched balls of wax that they thrust forward to catch drips from the acolyte’s candles. As hot as the ambient air was from the sun beating down on the crowds there was still an intense heat that could be felt as hundreds of candles passed with each procession. There was no lack of intensity of emotion or physical sensation in any part of the week.
It is hard to explain the waves of emotion that crashed over me as I stood in these crowds. The excitement was palpable and between the heat of the sun, the noise, the various smells and sensations, it was easy to feel like we were melding into a glorious mass of humanity.
As someone who regularly deals with fear and anxiety but has become rather adept at pushing past them, I was surprised at how comfortable this experience was. I felt safe. I felt comforted by the crowds. This is a bit ironic because similar situations in my own country make me very nervous. A large crowd at Disneyland can drive me completely batty but this was a unique situation where peace could be found in the wake of the chaos. The figurative weight of the crowd combined with the heat and the noise were comforting like being lovingly embraced. I was pleasantly surprised by this and grateful for it at every turn.
I learned to embrace the surprises and allow our week to evolve into unexpected dinners with friends, glasses of sangria in previously unknown cafes (to yet again allow the children to climb on yet another newly discovered playground) and lots and lots of laughter. To fully immerse yourself in the experience one must be willing to stay up late, have thoughts and conversations interrupted by music, eat too much gelato, have too many chickpeas, jamón and pork cheeks and enjoy the tinto de verano (50% red wine and 50% Fanta or other soda). Prepare to recognize the approach of a procession by the smell of incense in the air and vibration of the ground from the impending arrival of people and the band. If you can free yourself to do these things and accept each experience as it comes you will have a most wonderful Semana Santa experience.
We were personally blessed to experience Semana Santa with new friends we made shortly after arriving in Sevilla. We met the American family at a playground and immediately clicked with them, beginning what I like to imagine will be a long and enduring friendship. So many blessings come from travel but new relationships are one of the greatest we’ve experienced. Grateful for our new friends we embraced each other and rode the wave of Semana Santa together, laughing, crying and stuffing ourselves silly as we experienced new things each day. We remain in contact with said sweet family and they are an integral thread woven through all of my memories of Semana Santa. For that I am quite grateful.
Now, let’s get serious…I am moved to tears at my frustration for lacking the words to properly convey the beauty that exists in Sevilla’s celebration of Holy Week. Nothing I have written after over a dozen rewrites of this post feels like ENOUGH. I remember wishing I could bottle the emotions. Even at 2am when revelers hollered outside my window, I knew every minute of that week was one which I would long for in years to follow. The late nights intensified our emotions as we swung from being deliriously happy to deliriously tired and back again. The photo below was taken well after midnight from my kitchen window midway through the week. Leading this procession was a full band with every instrument you can imagine. It was gloriously loud and drew a massive crowd but at the same time I wondered if it was a figment of my imagination. So much of that week felt like just that…a figment of my imagination and at any moment I might awake and realize it was just a dream.
However you choose to experience this holiest of weeks I encourage you to make every attempt to soak in your surroundings to the fullest extent possible. Talk to the people. Ask questions. Respect their traditions. Be gentle and kind to the people around you as they will do the same for you. Savor the tinto de verano and wafting incense in the air. Close your eyes and try to mentally hit SAVE so you can recall the experience years later and smile. Speaking of smiling…I will warn you that this is the type of experience that will make you smile until your face hurts but also bring you to tears in unexpected moments. And that’s ok. Try giving in to that. Because that is all part of the experience. Let it happen. Let it all in. As I told you, you won’t be sorry. I know I’m not.
For more specific information here is a wonderful resource for information on the schedule and routes of Sevilla’s Semana Santa processions and activities. This site is updated each year after the schedule is decided a few weeks in advance of the events.