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Semana Santa: A Spectacle Unlike Any Other

Of all the benefits that can be gained from studying a tefl course online and then moving abroad, undoubtedly one of the most enticing is being able to experience traditions, festivities and celebrations that are a world away from your own culture. It’s at once grounding and intoxicating, finding yourself fully immersed in the rhythms of a different way of life. You may already know about the celebrations of your adopted home or they may be something you stumble upon almost accidentally with no prior knowledge of their existence. Either way, there will be surprises when you discover what’s out there. Such as the annual Dragon Boat Festival celebrated throughout China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, or the Sapporo Snow Festival of northern Japan, or The Burst of the Chariot in Florence. That’s the beauty of tefl abroad, you never quite know what you might find. For me, using my tefl in Spain, there have been a number of traditions that have surprised and inspired me, but none more so than Semana Santa.

semana santa

What is Semana Santa?

In relative terms, Semana Santa is Spain’s answer to Easter. However, while in the UK we celebrate this time of year with bunnies, chocolate eggs and treasure hunts, in Spain it is catholic in nature, not a celebration of the changing seasons. Here they mourn and rejoice over the course of a week, with processions that tell the story of the Passion of Christ. Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion and subsequent resurrection. It is incredibly moving, and for many locals it is akin to a spiritual experience. Witnesses to the celebration can often be seen crying in the street, simply unable to contain their emotions. It’s certainly a striking contrast to running around your grandma’s garden seeking out chocolate eggs. The processions are formed of groups of dozens of people, traditionally men, who collectively shoulder the weight of huge, grand floats, often made of silver and gold, and known as thrones. Each throne is adorned with a scene from the story and they are paraded through the streets of towns and cities across the country. Many thousands of people flock to the streets to witness each procession and there can be up to ten thrones being paraded simultaneously, often going from mid-morning until well past midnight. During the week, normal life pretty much comes to a standstill as there simply isn’t enough space for people to commute. It’s effectively an extra holiday for those teaching English in Spain.
The thrones and the emotions they conjure aren’t the only striking thing about the festival, however, for the clothes that participants are required to wear also add immensely to the atmosphere. For westerners from native English speaking countries in particular, the outfits can cause shock, and even outrage, because the most enduring symbol of Semana Santa is that of pointed hoods. In the USA and UK in particular, that symbol is inescapably tied to the horrors of the KKK, but it actually originates from sixteenth century Spain, long before it was stolen by members of the KKK. Certainly, when seen up close, it can be rather fearsome, but here it’s a symbol of faith not prejudice. During Semana Santa you will see scores of people dressed in these garments in a multitude of colours, following in the wake of the thrones and often carrying human sized candles that drip wax as they pass.
semana santa
The final element that combines to create Semana Santa’s unique atmosphere is the music, which can be heard from noon to well past midnight throughout the week. More or less every throne is accompanied by a selection of brass and percussion musicians, who belt out the marching rhythms and flood the streets with the story of Christ. It is at times sombre, at times joyous, but always inescapable. The soundtrack of perhaps the most well known story in history. The week in general is unlike anything I have ever experienced elsewhere. It brings people together in both anguish and elation, and stands as a lasting symbol of Spanish culture. If this description of Semana Santa has piqued your interest, then there is an excellent short film available for free on Youtube that manages to capture what this tradition is all about. You can find it here. There are of course many festivals of such power and emotion littered throughout the non-English world. Whether you choose to take your accredited tefl course you will undoubtedly experience something you could never have imagined. For more information on how to do so you can visit tefl.com, and for more information about studying your tefl in Spain you can visit the tefl in Málaga website here.
music semana santa