I learned very quickly that we were lucky to be in Granada for Semana Santa, or “Holy Week”. When I posted my first Instagram picture, a good friend from the USA chimed in with “I studied in Granada at college! It’s the best time to be there!”. What she failed to mention were the parades of pointed hatted, masked men.
It was merely by a happy accident that our first wedding anniversary coincided with the UK Easter holiday break. Seeing the Alhambra is a “bucket list” item that I have had for years and, after a particularly dreary winter in London, seeing the Alhambra and the sun were our sole focuses in choosing Granada as our destination. It was in the days before arriving that we started to get an inkling of what the week leading up to Easter Sunday held for the city. “Access to the neighborhood by car ends at 4 PM before the processions” was all that Lydia, our rental host, relayed as though this was a normal and natural thing. So much for “free parking” as the listing had promoted, we thought. How little did we know!
It is hard to explain just how many people take to the tiny, ancient streets each evening for nightly celebrations. We happened to meet Julia and his wife, Jolanda, who hail from Madrid, in for the long weekend to visit Julio’s parents. Born and raised in Granada, Julio comes home with his two kids and Jolanda every year to celebrate Easter with his parents. He isn’t the only one. Families line the sidewalks having sidewalk picnics as they wait for the processions to begin. Teenagers and Uni students gather together to giggle and take selfies – not a single beer or glass of anything other than a softy in sight. An air of sobriety in the air as the procession makes its way through the town.
Semana Santa is a tradition brought to Spain from the holy lands in the 15th century. The passion of Christ, or Jesus’s journey in his last days, is celebrated with evening processions(sadly, no parade candy) in which the fraternities for various Catholic churches in the area create elaborate floats of Jesus or his mother, Mary, to carry across the city. Yes, you read that correctly. The floats are carried by 20 or more men of the brotherhood, often for many hours, walking in sync beneath a float depicting a gilded or ornate life-sized, hand-painted statue surrounded by gilded sunbursts, lace curtains, and candelabras with live flames flicking in the night air. Its safe to say that the insurance premiums on these floats are as lofty as the celestial beings that they represent! “Bad risk management” doesn’t seem to have a Spanish translation for Semana Santa.
But the man-powered floats were not the thing that shocked me and left me bewildered. As we strolled along the Carrera del Darre back to our flat after our tapas tour, I caught a glimpse of some young adults in purple, robes with petticoats and wearing purple, cone-shaped hats with attached purple masks with only eye-holes cut out so that the cloaked wearer could still see. It was a sight that any American would find unsettling and disturbing in its familiarity. Since the Ku Klux Klan is not reputed to be a “thing” in Andulasian, I quickly rushed back to the comforts of rented wifi to start researching what the hell I had just seen!
Capirotes are a costume worn by those who march in the processions as a gesture to atone for their sins of the previous year. Often dressed in vivid colors or the occasional white, the Nazarenos or, those who are repenting, lead the processions, carrying large pillar candles and walking in bare feet across the cobblestoned streets of the city for hours. They accompany ladies dressed on black lace dresses and mantillas and, as with the men carrying the floats, it is seen as an honor to walk in the procession to repentant their sins albeit under the safe but awkward veil of anonymity. We would learn that the Nazarenos and their capirotes were the single, most common symbol for the week. We saw banners, toy figures, and, weirdly, a marshmallow cupcake Nazarenos completed with hood and lemon flavored pillar candle! For this week in Spain and other Catholic communities, this costume was not a symbol of division and hatred that I associated with it but, in fact, a symbol of regret and a desire for rebirth.
Semana Santa is a special time in Granada. A time of reflection, coming together and rebirth which makes it the perfect place to celebrate Easter or spring. A city named, after all, for the pomegranate; an Arabic symbol of life, abundance, and rebirth.