Semana Santa... Easter. I was lucky enough to experience another type of Easter this year. Semana Santa is what Easter is called, and the differences don't end at the name. Semana Santa has easily been the most culturally different thing I have experienced in Spain thus far, and it was incredible to see and experience and be apart of something so radically different. I was so eager to see what everyone was making a fuss about, as everyone had told me that Easter in Spain was different; I had seen photos, and agreed that it was. But, experiencing it first hand... I was completely shocked and intrigued and fascinated by the events of Semana Santa.
Semana Santa directly translates to 'The Week of the Saint'. All throughout Spain, it is celebrated; the biggest celebration being held in Sevilla (Seville), in the south of Spain. It officially starts on the Thursday (1/4/10) and runs through to the Sunday. One big thing for me, was that they don't give out Easter eggs. :( That is to say, that Easter eggs have been introduced into Spain, as the western phenomenon has reached Spain. But Easter eggs are not important, and only some small children get them. So, I had an Easter without Easter eggs, which was... strange. I was looking forward to my Easter eggs, and it made me realise how much I look forward to them, when I should be focusing all of attention on the real reason for Easter - Jesus' death and resurrection.
I got to go with my host family to Zaragoza to celebrate the Semana Santa celebrations. Each town, big or small celebrates Easter, but the larger the city, the larger the celebration. And because Zaragoza is home to la Basilica del Pilar, the Semana Celebrations are quite large and flamboyant. The celebrations start on the Thursday, during the day. I arrived at around 8pm, and didn't see anything on the way in, so felt like they were making a big fuss out of nothing. At around 9:30pm we left el piso (the flat)...
"I couldn't see anything; there were lots of people wandering around, and then I hear it... BOOM!! Big, deep drum beats echoing through the streets. Another beat, and then another, and other, steadily quickening; just like my racing heart. I still can't see anything. The drums continue, getting louder every second as they get closer to where I'm standing... and then I see it; tips of the hats. They are all deep purple. Tips slowly turn into all of the hat, then the covered, hooded faces and finally, their full bodies. Their purple robes illuminate against the dark night. It is something I have never experienced before. They're all in lines, slowly, somberly marching down the streets, las carreterras, the drums and their beats what they set their steps to. I look on with my mouth wide open, and I look around me, feeling a sense of guilt. I don't really know why, but I guess because they look so much like the KKK, that I feel like I'm taking part in a racist activity, rather than remembering Christ's death. I ask María Antonia why they wear the outfits and she tells me that it's a sign of repentance - a way to show that they are sorry for killing Christ, and for all of the sins that they have committed."
This is of one groups of the manolas. Each different coloured robe signifies a specific part of Jesus' death and resurrection.
These processions continue all through the night. We stayed out until about midnight, having tapas, and wine (Spanish wine is excellent!) and finally getting to bed at around 12:30... an early night for the Spanish people! The next morning I woke up bright and early, ready to see what else I was going to see that day... all I heard was silence, and sure enough, no one was awake. I ended up sleeping in till 10:30am and got to have breakfast and get ready for the day. Things didn't start until 5pm, so I had a good six hours to spare. I took my journal, my camera, some money and myself out and decided to go to El Palacio del Alajafería, which is a palace in Zaragoza. José Antonio told me that it was quite a walk, so told me where to catch the bus, and how long the bus ride would take (15 minutes). I got to the bus stop, took bus 32, and asked the conductor how long it would take to get to El Palacio. He said around five minutes. I sat down in the only spare seat, facing away from the driver. Three bus stops and two minutes later, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to see the bus driver standing next to me, asking me why I wasn't getting off to see the palace. I felt like such an idiot! I quickly stood up and went to exit the bus, but tried to exit out of the entrance. So, I finally exited the bus with a red-as-a-tomato face, feeling like the most stupid person in the world. There are some things I haven't quite figured out yet! El Palacio del Aljafería is an Arabic style palace. It was originally built by the Muslim population in Spain, and when the Christians conquered them, it was converted into a more Romanic style. I absolutely love the Arabic arquitecture, and it reminds me of Aunty Rob and Uncle Matt. I really enjoyed seeing it, but I love visiting things with other people, I think it makes it much more enjoyable. As I was leaving I knew I had two options; catch the bus home, or walk. I don't think I really understand the Spanish culture very well, or at least my host family! In Tudela, we walk everywhere. But, as soon as they get to a point where it would take longer than a minute in a car, they use the car. I, personally love walking. I love walking to school, letting the walk wake me up completely, and I love walking and discovering new things. The walk to El Palacio del Aljafería would have taken at most 15 minutes. So, I decided to walk. And I loved it. I had no idea where I was going, but I had a general idea. It took me about 20 minutes getting lost a couple of times, but I got to the main plaza. Feeling accomplished, I bought myself a coffee at this lovely cafetería, sitting outside, the sun making me feel all warm and lovely. It was such a nice way to spend my afternoon.
At around 5pm, we went down to the main street of Zaragoza to see the procession of Friday night. This is the biggest night, and this one procession started at 6pm and went for 6 hours. It was crazy. We were able to see the beginning of it, and it was really really interesting. At the front of the procession, there was a man wearing no shoes, with a bell in his hands, hooded, wearing black.
I asked why he was at the front of the group, and why he wasn't wearing shoes. María Antonia answered, "Every year, during Semana Santa, Zaragoza lets one prisoner go. They let him go to remember how the people let Barrabus go, instead of Jesus."
"So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, "Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?" For he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him. While Pilate was sitting on the judge's seat, his wife sent him this message: "Don't have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him." But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. "Which of the two do you want me to release to you?" asked the governor. "Barabbas," they answered. "What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?" Pilate asked. They all answered, "Crucify him!" "Why? What crime has he committed?" asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, "Crucify him!" When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. "I am innocent of this man's blood," he said. "It is your responsibility!"
I found it so incredible that they actually let a prisoner go. It was beyond my comprehension, and I found it so crazy to think that every year a city actually let a real prisoner go, just like Pilate did when Jesus was crucified. Blows my mind.
I found a lot of people not wearing shoes, some people even wearing chains around their feet.
I asked María Antonia again why they did not wear shoes, and she replied that wearing no shoes was another sign of respect and repentance. She told me that a lot of people who bore great guilt and pain over their sins often walked in the Semana Santa processions without any shoes, as a way to physically show their repentance, asking for forgiveness.
Mum sent me an email about her Easter, and wrote this:
"As we came in we got a big nail and part way through the service we nailed our nails into a life size wooden cross that was lying on the floor in the middle of the room, lying on a crumpled sheet with candles around it. As they did each reading they would come and blow one candle out....sort of like snuffing the life out of Jesus by our sins. As the lady who wore a robe at the service we went to last time came to nail her candle in she could barely walk with the grief of it all and was sobbing as she nailed her nail in.....2 women came and helped her walk to her seat. I had mixed feelings with this. I feel that we can't look at Good friday without the filter of Easter resurrection Sunday and although we are sad, it is a sadness filled with hope. Her grief seemed so profound that I wondered whether she felt she had received forgiveness for her sins or not.....(gee I wonder what SHE did???) And a part of me thought that I don't take my many sins seriously enough. Mhhhhmmmm.....something to think about."
This is something that was really apparent to me as well, throughout the Semana Santa processions. I found it extremely confronting to see the hooded manolas, who were hooded as a way to show repentance and respect as well.
"I think the Spanish and the Australians, (well, at least myself) have completely different associations with robes and hooded people. I think of the death eaters out of Harry Potter, executioners, the KKK... But the Spanish people associate the robes and hoods as reverence, respect, repentance. It was so interesting to see how our associations of something can change our meaning of a situation and our understanding of an event. I saw the hoods and robes at first as something wrong, something to be feared, something to feel guilty about. But now, it's Sunday, and the robes are off as people are dancing down the street celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. It's something completely different, and has challenged me in the way I let things affect the way I perceive different things. It's definitely something for me to think about!"
I didn't bring my bible with me to Zaragoza, and had wished I had. I struggled with the distinction between relationships with God, and the physical, ritualistic side of religion, that is very apparent in Spain. Instead, Brad sent me a text message that pretty much summed up everything I needed to hear.
"Hi family! Good Friday! I hope you've all had a fantastic day remembering the cross. 'He died for all so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.' 2 Corinthians 5:15. Have a great weekend! Love B + K'
I wrote that out in my diary, and underneath that I wrote,
"Looking back on what I've written, it feels like God has answered my questions with Brad's text message. Thank you God, for placing words I need to hear in front of me. Thank you for continuing to reveal yourself to me, and thank you for the life you've given me. I'm so thankful. Thank you for your sacrifice, and the promise of life that comes with that sacrifice."