Semana Santa – it’s a holy moly kind of season.

Chaotic trumpets, beating drums, chanting people, and giant statues of the Virgin Mary hanging out underneath my bedroom balcony until the wee hours of morning is to be expected this time of year. It’s kind of Spain’s version of a glorified Easter egg hunt. Except that it lasts a week, runs from 7a.m. to 4a.m., and there are massive religious processions instead of chocolate Easter eggs and marshmallow peeps. The Roman Catholic tradition in Spain is deeply rooted, so it’s no surprise that when a religious holiday is celebrated, Spaniards go all out.


This is pretty much what goes on outside of my bedroom window.
Please enjoy the melodramatic music.


The weeks leading up to Semana Santa, or Holy Week, begin in February during Carnaval. Carnaval basically involves dressing up in costumes, going to botellónes (a.k.a. drinking in the streets), and heading over to the discoteca. Carnival also marks the beginning of Lent, which is when we are supposed to give up bad habits and look forward to becoming better people.


“Carnaval 2011. John Lennon y Yoko Ono.”




…and after.

(Compliments of my sister-in-law).


Once the 40 days of Lent had passed, my mother-in-law presented us with piles of deliciously fried drunk food typical Semana Santa pastries.

In order from center to right I believe they are called “pestiños” and “gajorros.”

And these little guys are called “rosquillos.” Look familiar?


I should mention that each province, and sometimes each town within a province, usually has its own holiday pastry (as well as its own typical food dish and accent/dialect). So my mother-in-law’s pastries shown above might not be familiar to Spaniards in other provinces.

With pastries at hand, Holy Week had officially begun.


Why yes, I woke up unusually early to take all of the following pictures for your entertainment! My under-eye circles really hope you’ll enjoy them.


Those wearing capuchones, or hoods, are called penitentes, or people doing penance. Unfortunately, in U.S. history the KKK is known for wearing similar hoods while committing racist acts of violence and murder. But the hoods used in Semana Santa does not bear the same significance.

 The creepy-looking capuchones gained popularity during the Spanish Inquisition, when thousands of people were being persecuted for their religious beliefs. By using a capuchón, people were able to keep their identity under wraps from nosy neighbors while still participating in their religious customs. Nowadays most Spaniards participate in penitente activities because it’s cool and they enjoy anonymously marching underneath my bedroom window and chanting things like, “Sleep, you need sleep? Bua.Ha.Ha.Ha.”



Rumor has it that a couple hundred years ago, the Catholic Church was looking for ways to keep civilians from straying over to the new religious movements that were coming about. Since most people were illiterate, the Church decided that having loud and colorful marching parades allowing them to demonstrate their faith was the way to go. And people were like, “Yeah, Church! You so fly! I guess we’ll stay!”


Several women also participate as “penitentes” in the processions,  wearing beautiful lace scarves called “mantillas”.


Little kids dress up as Roman soldiers, which you have to admit is freakin’ adorable.


And of course, there is the main attraction – an elaborately dressed, metric-ton statue of the Virgen María.


Really, she’s that huge. I just love waking up at the crack of dawn to find her porcelain face floating by our second-story window.


I always think of Monty Python’s chanting monks whenever I hear a procession in the distance. Okay, it’s a bit immature of me, but the 10th second of this video never fails to make me laugh.


25 thoughts on “Semana Santa – it’s a holy moly kind of season.

  1. Snort! I must be a bit immature too cause that video definitely made me laugh…
    I LOVE your blog! Probably partly cause I lived in Ronda for a year when I was a kid, across the street from the cathedral, so I can hear the Semana Santa singing in my ears still….but your photos are great, the writing really fresh, a real delight.

    • Why, thank you. Oooh, Ronda! I went there once during my first year here, and have been meaning to go back. I used to live next to one of the biggest churches in town, where processions were constantly coming and going. Now I live next to a little church (really, they’re everywhere), so my experience this year was a bit toned down, but the ringing always stays…

  2. I’m still laughing! This is HILARIOUS! I have to go see this religious Mardi Gras for myself. PLEASE send me a Pontius (Sp) Pilate mask so I can pop out and scare the Offspring. I’ll be re-watching this forever…

  3. Groan! Now all I want is to stuff my face with pastries! If I wore one of those hoods no one would know it’s me :D Great post! And what a great town! (your John and Yoko reenactment is spot on too) Love, love love!!!

  4. Maybe because I haven’t yet experienced anything quite like this, I’m thinking this would be fun… the drinking, the ceremony, the religious uplift…but mostly, those amazingly delicious looking treats that just made me super hungry. :-)

    Glad you’ll be able to sleep now! ;-) and to those bags under your eyes… I LOVED the pictures! :-)

  5. Dude… your constant photos of food are NOT helping my diet (Although before I read your post I had a Denver Omelet, and there’s still an Apple Turnover on my desk… so really I have no one to blame but myself…).

    ANNNYWAYS… these cultural posts I keep reading are great. I like living vicariously through your cultural adventures.

    PS… I know you have to make your own sour cream, but do you guys have Greek Yogurt?

    • I love Greek yogurt! And, no, we don’t have any here as far as I know. Though it might be available in the cities…you never know. I miss multicultural food!

  6. I also sighed my way through the massive crowds this year (I’m living in Cusco) your post was hilarious. Love the pictures, nice history about the veils and the black hoods. I didn’t know about that. Those rosquillos look so yummy!!! Recipe porfa??

    • Thanks, Emiel! I’ll admit, once I got started I just couldn’t stop and just decided I’d include everything from this whole Semana Santa process and mash it all up into one post. It was fun!

  7. fantastic (hilarious) post! so glad you got up to take those photos, they are amazing. so i thank your under-eye circles. (esp the last one of the huge madonna, beautiful) The KKK-looking pointy capuchon hoods are slightly unsettling.yeeks. but I didn’t know the history.
    And I might need to visit your village just to get one of those roman outfits for my little guy! A-Dor-A-ble!!

  8. Wow… looks so festive! Our Easters aren’t the same here. And those pastries look DELICIOUS. I hope you had a fantastic Easter weekend Michelle!
    PS. I’m still on my chocolate eating spree. May herelds a new era of dieting :( Damn this tummy of mine!

    • Thank you, you too! Haha, I wish there had been more chocolate (with peanut butter filling, mmmmmm). Yummy on the taste buds, but perhaps not so great in the tummy. *_^

  9. A great photo of Yoko & John ! And I like the reportage about the Holy Week in Spain. I did not know the reason for the capuchones and the relation with the KKK, grazie, thanks (this is bilingual!) for let me learn it.

  10. La Chica Andaluza has sent me here, and I can see already from this post and a couple of others that I will enjoy my visits! What fun. I’ve long had a great collection of reasons for wanting to visit Spain, but I suspect that you and Tanya will be only reinforcing that urge. Beware! Love the photos and the explication of Semana Santa.

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