Blindfolded penitent carrying one of the Thrones during Semana Santa, Málaga.
From today until April 20th, one of the biggest festivals of the year in Spain is upon us - Semana Santa (Holy Week).
Andalucía is well known for the many huge processions taking place each day (and throughout the night), particularly in the cities of Seville and Málaga.
But in even the smallest of white villages throughout La Axarquía, evidence of devotion and penitence can be seen, as religious effigies are squeezed through the often steep, narrow streets.
The images are very powerful as the life-sized religious figures set onto ornate tronos (floats or thrones) sway in time to the slow thud of the drums marking their beat.
The colourfully-robed, hooded penitents of the various Brotherhoods make their way through the streets accompanied by the solemn wail of the trumpets of the local municipal band.
Semana Santa is a festival to be perceived through all the senses.
You can almost taste the overpowering aroma of incense and flowers filling the air as the processions pass by. No matter the time of day or night, villagers will congregate on street corners, steps, or hang over their balconies to see and sometimes applaud or cry out to their favourite tronos, often reaching out to touch the display as it mesmerisingly sways past them.
Make no mistake, you don’t need to be a religious person to be deeply moved or feel the passion of Semana Santa.
After all – THIS IS SPAIN!
EDITED TO ADD: After I posted the video yesterday of the Semana Santa processions in Malaga, I was reminded by Gilly, Cristina and Gemma‘s comments to tell you about the hoods that are worn (some conical and some not). It IS important to know the origin. Thanks ladies :)
A common feature of Semana Santa is the Nazareno or penitential robe for some of the participants in the processions.
This garment consists in a tunic, a hood with conical tip (known as a capirote) used to conceal the face of the wearer, and sometimes a cloak. The exact colours and forms of these robes depend on the particular procession.
The robes were widely used in medieval times for penitents, who could demonstrate their penance while still masking their identity.
Sadly, even though these robes and hoods have been used for hundreds of years in this way, they were “hi-jacked” by the Klu Klux Klan in the late 1860s – for which they are more “well-known” outside of Spain.
More’s the pity.
Semana Santa (Holy Week) processions begin throughout Spain, tomorrow. Here’s a taste of what to expect if you are heading to Málaga:
Until I moved to live in Spain, January 6th only meant one thing to me – the twelfth night – or, more importantly, the day you are meant to have all your Christmas decorations packed away until next year.
[Image credit: Flickr (CC) Paul and Jill]
Now, of course, I know that it’s the day that La Fiesta de Los Reyes takes place throughout Spain to celebrate the day the Three Kings arrived in Bethlehem to present the baby Jesus with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. It is also the most important day for Spanish children, as they receive their festive gifts from the Three Kings rather than Father Christmas (although every year Santa is becoming increasingly popular).
The fun starts on the previous evening, usually with processions passing though most towns and cities. During the late afternoon, the crowds grow in anticipation of the arrival of the Three Kings on huge motorised floats, horseback, camels or, in the case of my local mountain village a year or two ago – in the back of a police car!
[Image credit: (cc) Paul and Jill]
As daylight fades away, you might hear the drums and music of the approaching parade, heralding the arrival of the Three Kings.
People on the floats throw boiled sweets towards the waiting crowds on either side. But beware! Some of the younger people on the floats can be rather enthusiastic throwers, with sweets being hurled out like missiles! If you’re not careful you’ll get your eye taken out! Many in the crowd come prepared, holding up-turned umbrellas to catch the booty, whilst others just scrabble around the ground, stuffing the fallen sweets in their pockets or bags.
It´s quite a sight to see adults scuttling around grabbing sweets off the floor totally without embarrassment – in fact, it´s easy to get caught up in the excitement of it all!
After the parade, most families head home where, before going to bed, the children will put out something nice to eat and drink for the Three Kings, plus water for their camels. They also leave out their best pair of shoes to be filled with presents. The next morning, if the children have been good then they will find presents in and around their shoes, if not, then only a lump of coal will have been left for them – though I suspect that doesn´t happen very often.
On January 6th, most families gather around the table to enjoy their Roscón de Reyes. This is a ring-shaped bun or sweet bread, sugar-frosted and decorated with fruit flavoured jellies and fruit. The bun is sliced in half and filled with a mock cream mixture. Hidden somewhere in the cream will be a novelty such as small model king and, if you are lucky enough to find one of the hidden figurines in your portion, then tradition has it that you will be blessed with good luck for the coming year. Though I guess it would be bad luck if you inadvertently swallowed it and choked!
This is also the final opportunity to see one of the many Belénes (Nativity scenes) around the town or city. I photographed this one inside Málaga Town Hall (Ayuntamiento de Málaga) last Sunday. There was quite a queue to get in by the time I left.
Which is your favourite fiesta or festival?
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