Semana Santa, the week before Easter, is a really big deal in southern Spain. The kind of big deal that is talked up starting in Fall by all of the teachers as one of the must-see events of the year. The kind of big deal that has churches preparing their religious floats and the city preparing the procession routes months in advance. The kind of big deal that is reflected in astronomical price jumps in plane ticket and hotel room rates during the days its celebrated.

What I had gathered beforehand was that Semana Santa consisted in a continuous succession of religious processions throughout the city of Sevilla. The processions consist of elaborate religious floats bearing sculptures of Jesus and Mary, accompanied by musicians and people who belong to religious associations affiliated with the particular churches and floats. These people are called “Nazarenos,” and they wear an outfit that for Americans makes a frightening and disturbing first impression, because it is the outfit that the KKK borrowed since it grants anonymity to the wearer.

Nazarenos in procession

Julia and I returned from a trip to France on the Wednesday evening of Holy Week, and were invited out to see the processions, or pasos, by one of Julia’s teachers and his family. We almost didn’t go due to being tired from our trip, but decided to at the last minute. We got to see a couple of processions and they were so unique from anything I’ve seen in the States.

Nazareno holding a standard

The floats are all extremely beautiful artistically, and are decorated with candles and flowers. And they’re extremely heavy, usually weighing more than a metric ton! The floats are carried by teams of men called costaleros. Though the work is brutal, they consider it an honor to carry the floats, and the crowds love how the human movement gives the statues life.

Pentitentes are characterized by the crosses they carry and their non-pointy hats, and are marching to make public penance.

I was surprised by the universally reverent attitude that the watching crowds held for the processions. Without fail, the crowd became totally silent when one of the floats passed by. Whispered conversations and cell phone rings were hushed by other onlookers. A chaotic complement to this quietness were the children who ran around to the Nazarenos when the procession paused to ask for candy and wax from the Nazarenos’ long candles. Apparently, the kids form the wax into a ball which they save as a kind of Semana Santa souvenir.

A young Nazareno

People in Sevilla also told us that it always rains during Semana Santa, so we weren’t too worried when a couple of rain drops fell on Thursday morning since this seemed to comply with the superstition. However, a couple turned into a torrent, and a series of violent storms settled over Sevilla inundating the city most of Thursday, Friday and Saturday. As the floats are extremely valuable, the processions are always canceled when there is the threat of rain, and so as of Thursday, not one procession took to the street! The last time that the Thursday night processions didn’t take place was 1933, for political reasons. So Julia and I witnessed a very historical non-event. What we thought was a preview on Wednesday night turned out to be the whole show for us!

I wish I had more pictures and experiences of Semana Santa to share with you all, but the weather dictated otherwise. The next big celebration in Sevilla is the Feria de Abril, which takes place in two weeks. It is also said that it always rains during Feria too, but I’m hoping that we’ve filled our quota of rain and canceled events!

The Easter message is all about hope, love and joy- wishing everyone all three this Easter!