Some Serious Culture Shock at Seville’s Semana Santa

Now you might ask: “What in the WORLD is a Jew doing at Spain’s holiest Catholic celebration of the year?!” Well my friends, there were (many) moments when I asked myself the same exact thing this past week. WTF am I doing here at Seville Semana Santa. But, curiosity kills the cat, ya know?

I happen to be living a mere hour from Seville, which holds the most famous Semana Santa celebrations in all of Spain. So as much as I’m not into religion and all things of the sort, I had to check it out. After all, I can’t say no to a fiesta. Or an opportunity to feel a bit of culture shock (Call me an adrenaline junkie if you must, it’s OK 😉 )

Watch my video.

So, what is Semana Santa?

Here’s a 20 second rundown of what this week is about. Semana Santa is Spain’s version of “Holy Week.” It’s all about the resurrection of the big man JC (no, not a rapper…Jesus). It leads up to Pascua, or Easter Sunday, each day with different processions filling the streets. Every single Spanish city, from my tiny pueblo to monster Madrid, celebrates the week with daily processions; but none celebrate it like Seville does. You’ll find the streets filled with 17th century floats of big man JC and the Virgin Mary, surrounded by parades of nnitnitentes. You know, those people that resemble the KKK (come on, don’t tell me you weren’t thinking it…) But I assure you, it’s NOT what you think.seville semana santa

These penitentes marching the streets are adults and children just like me and you…

seville semana santa

The only difference is that they are representing their local church in the most important week of the year. I describe it as a talent show for the churches; each church has its own act (known as the procession), and they flaunt off their costumes (the hooded capirotes) and their sets (the floats) to the good people of Spain. Each church even has their own band complete with a lead singer (the saeta) and back ups! It was just like I was at a city-wide performance of “Jesus Chrust, Super Star!” Butttttt, not quite…seville semana santa

While the symbolism of Semana Santa is rather dark dreary, Spaniard’s don’t miss an excuse to fiesta. After all, nobody’s got work or school. Unless you’re a bartender.

My Take on It

The Pros

Well, it was nothing like I have ever seen before! The festival truly depicts the value of “tradition” in the Spanish culture, which is cool.

The Cons

It’s not exactly a “festive” festival. There’s music in the streets, but the music is rather dull and debatably dreary, as you can here the consistent beating of the drums in the background of my video. There’s also swarms of people in the streets, so if you want to make it to a procession, leave an hour and a half early. Also- maybe it’s just me, but all the processions begin to look alike after a while. Maybe it was the heat getting to me?

The lesson learned…

The Spanish people are EXTREMELY nonjudgmental when it comes to religion, and it’s a beautiful thing. Really. When I told the folks at home that I was going to Spain’s most religious Catholic ceremony, I got a lot of “WTF’s'” and “But why’s?”. When I told people in Seville that I was Jewish, I got one of three responses: laughter, blatant apathy, or “que bien!” (meaning, that’s great!) Religion here is more of a culture, rather than a rigid set of beliefs. While there aren’t many Jewish people here in Spain, there is no ignorant air of racism. Which is pretty awesome, if you ask me. People are people, as we can see under the penitentes uniforms! We just have different traditions that make are culture go ’round.

So, is it worth your visit?

Well that’s for YOU to decide! I’m glad I went. I’m glad I saw a celebration that is so far from anything I have ever seen in my life. Just imagine if this suddenly appeared in the States! MASS PANIC. So, if you happen to be close to Seville next year for Semana Santa, check it out! Just know what you’re getting yourself into…seville semana santa

So, what do you think about Seville Semana Santa? Is this a festival you’d want to check out? Do those penitentes got you feelin’ some type of way? Share, share, share!

Wanna see more posts from festivals around Spain? Check out my wild experience at Las Fallas, Valencia!

13 thoughts on “Some Serious Culture Shock at Seville’s Semana Santa

  1. I think that you should experience everything you possibly can – all it can do is educate and enrich your life!!!! I love that you’re nonjudgmental – suck it up my dear Casie!!!! I love you very much. Aunt Lenore xoxox

    1. Thank you! They totally need to experience it for themselves, it’s the only way to truly understand the tradition. And OMG thank you for catching that!! My mind is “todo” stuck in Spanish haha. Updated 🙂

  2. We were just in Popayan, Colombia for the second biggest Semana Santa celebration in the world (I believe Seville’s is numero uno?). It was a bit of a let down to be honest. Dreary funereal music every night and the daily parades were very similar to each other (as you touch upon). One touch was they had the parades at night, which was quite interesting but, honestly, for a non-religious tourist, the whole thing wasn’t that worthwhile.

    I’m not surprised people weren’t too bothered about your religion. Where have you experienced otherwise? I’d be interested to know as I was kind of struck by that part in your article.

    Oh and, the KKK bit, you’re totally right! I remember reading somewhere that the KKK actually based their costumes on Christian / church costumes, so that makes sense.

  3. As I didn’t grow up in Málaga, my Semana Santa feelings are not that deeply ingrained, but let me tell you, I know of atheists who participate for cultural reasons, childhood nostalgia, etc. They get the same answer you got. You don’t believe in the big one but take part in the processions? Ok, to each their own. I get that you like the collective celebration. Even if you think this is a Christianized version of Spring rituals or whatever. On the other hand, some Catholics I know are a bit squeamish about these displays of shallow or “childish” religiousness. The processions are run and paid for by the brotherandsisterhoods and not the catholic church per se, anyway.

  4. You can brand me anything but I believe only americans and, in general terms, protestant or calvinist countries think in religion all the time as a defining factor. As you experienced in Spain, it’s not a combat between two mindsets (as americans thinks) as the majority of spaniards actually aren’t truly devout. The 90% of spaniards only step into a church for a wedding, a burial or something like that. Only old people and truly devouts attend to a mass every week. In fact the spanish people nowadays is anticlerical and against traditional catholicism! So, please, stop thinking we are people that is always praying, with a rosary, etc. That’s not true. In fact, many traditional us citizens go to a church more often than spaniards do xD!

    And, my friend, you can be even muslim and attend a mass here. Only the very old people or the priest will look you weird, but wouldn’t say anything. And regarding the jews, there’s no bad feelings against them. Remember that spain expelled the jews in 1492, and we lived many centuries without jewish comunities. But in modern times, even since the dictatorship of Franco, sephardic return was encouraged (sephardic jews could gain spanish citizenship, as this argument was used by the spanish ambassador in Hungary during WW2 for rescuing as many jews as he can for saving them from deportation by the nazis). Spanish people lost any prejudice against jewish people, apart of some political views regarding the state of Israel. But this is just politics, and anybody will brand you as anything just for being jewish!

  5. Nice blog!!! I’m from Barcelona and my family is from Sevilla. Semana Santa is not supposed to be a festive celebration since it basically depicts jesus’ death and also many people use it as their time to repent their sins and many walk barefoot or carry a big cross. Personally, I hate it but I think it is worth seeing at least once.
    I also agree with David, our religious feeling is very much subdued, and in fact, when I spent ayear in the US it really suprised me how religious people were (I attended a methodist church every sunday for a whole year…)

  6. Like David said, Spain is not antisemitic anymore, but it is weird enough that some words or phrases still have the markings of our past of deep catholic people who hated the fact that other religions even exsit. If you heard someone saying “marrano!” to a kid playing with dirt, it means “pig….and jew” though people use it nowadays to mean that someone is dirty, and is another word for pig.

    Or if you use really heavy swear words you “swear in Hebrew” o “juras en hebreo” to make even more apparent that the word was unholy enough, its funny how culture and religion makes those things stay over time.

  7. Try going to León next year. Here there’s a tradition during semana santa called “killing jews”, which just consists in drinking “limonada” (nothing to do with lemonade, instead, it’s wine with lemon, sugar and cinnamon) and having tapas (we’re the town with the best tapas of Spain or so they say) in the Barrio Húmedo, the medieval side of the town. They say it started as a way to avoid ultra Catholic people killing the Jews living here, as drinking wine was a way better way to honour christ’s passion (the story is way longer than that). So if you say you’re jew you probably will get loads of free limonada for the sake of the joke. Also, appart from christ, we have our very particular procession in which we worship a drunkard beggar who died in 1929 or so, just for being a beggar and a friend of the poets round here (It’s called El entierro de Genarín). That really is unique. If you ever have the opportunity, please, visit us, you won’t regret it.
    I have enjoyed a lot reading your blog, you really show a tender portrait of Spain, one we spaniards sometimes ignore or forget. And you are absolutely fortunate for having been in Extremadura, I’m pretty sure they’re the best people in all of Spain, really nice and caring people.

    1. Well, this sounds incredibly intriguing! Never, ever would I turn down the opportunity to drink limonada (especially if it’s free!!), WHILE eating the alleged “best” tapas in Spain. Gotta investigate on that part for sure 😉 I will have to look this up! When is the festival?

      1. Semana Santa is the same time of the year in all of Spain, I think it’s the same week the Jews celebrate Passover, the week the first whole of the moon of spring is in the sky. El Entierro de Genarín is on Jueves Santo, the Thursday of Semana Santa, at night, because Genarín died that night, crushed against the walls of the city by the first garbage truck León ever had. Guess next year it’s on March the 24th.

  8. aunque en españa se expulso a los judios(la inquisicion)…españa es un pais de contrastes…no hay cultura racista de ningun tipo y la prueba esta en que encuentras todavia mezquitas, y juderias por muchas ciudades…..solo hay que pensar que en este pais han convivido pacificamente durante siglos,judios,musulmanes,cristianos,budistas y hoy en dia puedes encontrar establecimientos religiosos de casi todas las culturas y creencias…en muchas ciudades existen todavia las juderias(como en toledo por ejemplo) y es la zona de actividad mas artesanal…y si vuelves a valencia en la misma capital estan reunidas,la juderia,la zona musulmana o raval y la cristiana …valencia es algo mas que las fallas y las playas…te aconsejo que si vuelves puedas disfrutar de algo mas que las fallas y mascleta desde fuera …la albufera,los pueblos del interior o si quieres fiesta… pueblos como gandia,las fiestas de moros y cristianos de alcoy,probar la horchata,el agua de valencia,una paella en el campo o simplemente admirar los castillos de morella y peñiscola ….espero que algun dia los hayas disfrutado y hagas un articulo

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