Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Semana Santa

[Note: now we are actually in feria]

¡Venga, vamos, me parece que estamos en FERIA! Today is Easter Sunday and so the last day of Semana Santa. Whereas in the United States Easter is the culmination of Lent and a commercialized mess that involves Easter bunnies and chocolate eggs, Easter Sunday is much more casual here in Sevilla. In fact, today feels more like the official start to Feria than anything.
As you may know, or not because I haven’t blogged about it yet, I spent the first part of my spring break in Paris [blog coming soon] and then returned to Sevilla early Wednesday morning to see some of Semana Santa and to spend Easter with my host family. Mejor dicho I came home early to run myself ragged during the marathon of Semana Santa and to spend Easter getting pumped for Feria and pretending to work on my various essays. Here’s an overview of my first (but certainly not last) Semana Santa experience here in Sevilla!

First of all, what the heck is Semana Santa?
Semana Santa is the week leading up to Easter. It traditionally starts on Palm Sunday (Domingo de Ramos) but Sevilla decided it couldn’t get enough so it now starts on the Friday before Palm Sunday with Viernes de Dolores and Sábado de Pasion. Throughout the week different hermandades salen con sus pasos por la ciudad. It’s hard to explain but basically the different church organizations, think knights of Columbus but for all ages, process around the city with these huge like-like sculptures/scenes of Jesus and Mary. The sculptures are carried on gigantic wooden platforms decorated with flowers and candles and are carried by dozens of men. They are accompanied by members of the organization ranging from little babies to teenagers to adults to senior citizens. These people are often dressed up as nazarenos (with the KKK style hood). The processions can last up to 14 hours and a supposed to be an act of penance. The hoods are worn so that the people walking can do their penance anonymously. People will often walk barefoot as well.. The hermandades walk all through the city, each on its own route, but all of them do the Carrera Official and process from La Campana to/through the Cathedral.  It’s hard to explain but it’s one of the most amazing things I have ever witnessed. It’s sad that nothing like this would happen in the United States. I’m sure someone would be offended. The thing is, while it’s religious it’s also hugely cultural. One of my professors and Sevillan born and raised and very strongly agnostic and he thinks it’s the most amazing display of culture he’s ever seen and his studies have literally taken him all over the world. [Note: “pasos” are both the sculptures and the procession as a whole]
Semana Santa is a holiday in all of Spain but each area of the county celebrates it differently. Even here in Andalucia there are no two cities that celebrate it the same. From what I here it’s much more joyous in the south and more somber up north. I also hear that Sevilla is a truly one of a kind celebration.
So what did my Semana Santa look like?
Wednesday (Miercoles Santo): I got back from Paris pretty early on Wednesday morning. I didn’t sleep much the night before so I went to bed as soon as I got home and slept until lunch. My host sister was the only one home during lunch so while she ate she described Semana Santa a bit to me and told me about how it had rained earlier in the week so some of the pasos (the sculpture/platforms) didn’t get to do their route. I had to tutor at five and I left a bit early to walk through the center of the city to see what was going on. It was crazy. I saw a little bit of one paso and then got yelled at because I was apparently in a ticketed area and I obviously didn’t have a ticket. After tutoring my favorite nine year old, I saw the paso of El Baratillo before stumbling upon a cute vegetarian/vegan bakery where I obviously had to get a snack. Then I went to a plaza behind the cathedral and saw San Bernardo. It was pretty impresionante to see their Christ sculpture, a crucifixion with red velvet detailing and purple flowers, in a plaza between the cathedral, the Archive de Indias and the Alcázar. I felt like I was transported to another century. Minus all of the smart phones being used to take pictures. I called it a night pretty early and was home by dinner time (read: 10pm).
Las Cigarreros
Thursday (Jueves Santo): I knew that Thursday was going to be a long day because it was La Madrugá, the early morning hours of Friday where some of the biggest and oldest processions take place. I of course was an idiot and didn’t take the day to rest so I was even more tired when nighttime rolled around. My adventure started after lunch when I went to go see Las Cigarreros, the only paso in Los Remedios which is my neighborhood. I got there pretty early so I was in the first row. I got to take a ton of cool pictures and see what happens close up. Some of the things, like the little kids asking the nazerenos (the people with the KKK style hoods) for candy as they walk by, you can’t see if you’re further back. I stood next to an older woman and we talked a bit. The funniest thing was when two women walked by smoking she turned to me and said, “Jeez, these days women smoke more than the men…”
I had the perfect view of the paso as it came around the corner onto calle Asuncion. The Christ always comes first and this particular one, which has Roman soldiers on it as well, was just amazing to see coming around the corner with the booming music of the band and the incense smoke everywhere. The Virgen is a whole different story. After the Christ you have to wait a bit to see her but when she’s getting close you can feel the excitement growing. “Is she coming?” “Mama when is the Virgen coming?” “How much longer?” When she came around the corner, hundreds of rose petals were thrown off the balconies. Amazing. Beautiful. Wonderful. Perfect. As she went by, a woman next me who was holding her grandson started crying because he shouted “there’s Maria!” I looked around and she was certainly not the only one.
After that paso ended I spent the rest of the afternoon planning out my route for La Madrugá. Once I found all of the churches and streets that I was planning on going to I went to the grocery store to stock up on candy to keep me awake. Since the streets are usually packed it’s normal to go to the churches in the afternoon to see the pasos up close. I went to Esperanza de Triana on calle Pureza and it was literally INSANE. The street was packed 10 hours ahead of time. Trianeros, that is people who live in Triana, are very proud of being from Triana, it used to be a separate city. Everything is a big party in Triana!
Christ of the 3 falls- not my picture
Early Early Friday morning (La Madrugá): I went back home to bundle up for the 45 degree weather and then went out to get Italian food with Caroline. After we ate I set out to Plaza de San Lorenzo to wait for the salida (leaving) of Gran Poder. I waited for two and a half hours, which was rough but it was worth it. The time was also broken up by a parade of Roman Soldiers who marched throughout the city entering in each of the churches before the pasos leave. I loved this, it made me feel like I was actually watching Holy Thursday/Good Friday happen 2,000 years ago. This is specific to La Madrugá. Unlike some of the others Gran Poder left in silence and then when the Christ appeared there was singing. After that, I headed to Puente de Triana (a bridge) to see Esperanza de Triana. My host dad and one of my host sisters walk in it; my host dad is one of the people who carry the Virgen. Esperanza is long. Very long. Like two hours long. I will say, the Christ (Cristo de las tres caídas/of the three falls) is 100% my favorite, especially with the music and the Virgin is beautiful as well. I can’t explain how beautiful it was when she passed right in front of me. After Esperanza I was getting very tired, it was about 4:30am at this point. It’s hard when you don’t have anyone to talk to and keep you motivated. I was jealous of all of the families and friends that make a day out of each paso, setting up chairs early and bringing picnics, enjoying each other as much as the main event. 
El Silencio-Not my Picture
The last paso I saw was el Silencio which is the oldest hermandad in Sevilla (from the 1300s). I watched them re-enter the church at the end of their route. It was cool because it was also in silence. The paso of the Virgen was decorated entirely in azahar, the flowers from the orange trees. I had plans to go see La Macarena but the streets were all blocked and I was very tired, it was about 6am at this point. Looking back, I’m sad I didn’t see it but I don’t think I would have made the walk back home. I went back to Puente de Triana and got churros and chocolate from the churros stand and sat myself down for the first time in almost 8 hours. I enjoyed my greasy, delicious churros with my favorite view of the city-looking over the river toward Triana. Even though I was exhausted and a bit grumpy, everything was perfect. I normally feel out of place when I’m surrounded by a bunch of Spanish people but at that moment I didn’t really care. After that feeling passed over, I speed-walked home, showered, and was in bed by 8am. My alarm went off for getting up to tutor at 11am and I promptly sent the family a message saying that I had gotten back late/early and asked if I could come after lunch instead. Since the little girl’s dad is one of the guys who carry the Christ in Gran Poder, they understood.
My favorite view, at sunrise
Friday (Viernes Santo): I slept until lunch and then went to tutor at five. At lunch my host sister was telling me about what it’s like to walk in the procession and how she has done it since she was 12. The hemandades seem very cool to me. I think I would want to be in one if I lived here. It’s another thing that I love about the culture and wish I was a part of. She also was telling me that she saw her dad at one point and called out “Alfonso Alfonso!” but he didn’t reply. He said that he heard her but assumed someone was calling a different Alfonso because “there are a million Alfonsos”. She said that all of the pasos stop at this one chapel for a mini-breakfast and when she was eating she could see both the Christ and the Virgen (which is usually impossible) and that it was so impresionante she cried. If you couldn’t tell, Semana Santa is very emotional for the Sevillanos. On the way home from tutoring I watched two more pasos on el puente (bridge). They were much shorter than Esperanza!
Saturday (Sábado Santo): I went out to dinner in Santa Cruz (the Old Jewish Quarter) with Caroline and her aunt who was visiting. She was really interesting and I loved hearing about their trip but I was super surprised to hear such a thick southern accent after having been in Spain for such a long time! I forgot what they sound like! Afterward I went to the chapel at the University for an Easter Vigil mass. It was long but beautiful. There was also a baptism and I thought the priest’s words about the new member (a younger boy) were beautiful, about how all of the saints now had a new son/brother and how he had this whole new family. I loved it. Equally powerful was when we sang “Ave Maria” at the end and the Virgen was still on her paso with all the flowers and candles inside the chapel. After mass there was a social in the university with hot chocolate and lots of traditional sweets. I met a group of girls from the US so I talked to them, ate a bit, and then headed home.

Easter (La Pascua): Sunday morning I got up and went to my usual spot, Café de Indias, to work on my various papers before heading over to Plaza de España for a sevillanas class. Like usual I had a blast and I met a girl who is here teaching with the government program that I was thinking about for next year. She says she loves it and she’s coming back next year as well. The program seems really cool, except that you can’t chose exactly where you want to be placed. After the class we went to go have a drink and talk about being American in Sevilla. I went home for lunch. Since it was a holiday we had a lunch de fiesta, meaning lots of food and wine. Just like with Christmas, I have realized that the only thing you really need to do for a holiday is have good food and good conversation. That’s it. Later, I went to the park to sit in the sun for a bit and then walked around the fairgrounds.

Puerta de Feria!
That was that for my Semana Santa. Some people don’t like it but I thought it was absolutely amazing. The culture is amazing and I’m always sad that we don’t have anything close to similar in the United States. The aspect of community/family was beautiful to watch but made me sad that I did most of it alone. Most of the other study abroaders were traveling and my Spanish friends had all gone back to their respective towns. I had an interesting conversation with the girl I met in my sevillanas class about how hard it was to make Spanish friends from Sevilla. Even though it’s a city, people born here tend to stay here and so the friends that they have are friends that they’ve had since they were two. Obviously this isn’t true in every case but it’s true in every case I have seen. I understand- if you aren’t looking for friends you aren’t going to look for friends, especially with people who aren’t here permanently. This is why I’ve had so much more success with Erasmus students (European students studying abroad) and people from other parts of Spain. 

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you had a beautiful experience. I enjoyed this story.
    Love mom