To those of us who grew up in America, unless you took an interdisciplinary Spanish class in high school, Semana Santa may or may not have something to do with a fat guy with a white beard. But for those in Spain, and in other culturally Catholic countries, it is one of the biggest events of the year.
Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the Semana Santa (Holy Week) procession in Mallorca, which is an island off of the east coast of Spain. Holy Week in Spain is a time when Catholics all over the country gather and throw a different series of events–one of them being a procession where dedicated men and women march through the city as a way of repenting their sins. In order to keep their anonymity, these people have to be completely covered, in a traditional dress, which, yes, resembles the known American organization, the Klu Klux Klan.
Even though our cultural conditioning had led us to believe that these photos look menacing, the procession itself was actually quite beautiful. Small children are running around everywhere, making sure that candle wax doesn’t drip onto the street, bands play music, and ornate, handmade floats are carried down the streets.
During the procession I attended, a lone woman was so moved she started singing. Everyone around went quiet, and they held the parade until she finished. By the end of the song, many around me were crying–the woman was able to share her moment of remorse with the rest of the crowd, and move them to tears.
That being said, many of my friends’ reactions to my social media posts during this ordeal were something like, “Dude, that’s seriously freaky,” or “Really, that looks scary! Context is everything!”
And it’s true, context is everything. Especially since the Semana Santa outfits came before the KKK even existed, this should be a common cultural understanding. Yet, in a country where you’re not taught (or not supposed to be taught) religion in schools, people don’t know this context, and so looking at these photos sparks a certain prejudice. But lucky for us these days, the internet exists, so you have the ability to culture yourself, and learn things with which you can impress your friends.
1. The cones on these people’s heads are called “capirotes,” and are supposed to represent the fact that they are ridding themselves of the sin that they have committed over the past years. The cone shape comes from the Medieval days where they would put “dunce” hats on those who were being publicly shamed. Over several decades and religious evolution, these hats turned into a way for Catholics to be publicly chastise themselves for their bad decisions.
2. The robes are there for anonymity. They are supposed to make you feel like one in a collective while wearing them–not only are you publicly repenting, you are doing it with your brethren, as a commonality. This is where the brotherhoods come in, each represented by a different symbol and color. Note: the Semana Santa colors represent different brotherhoods, while the different colors in the KKK represent different positions within the organization.
Third, the penitents hand out candy to children standing on the sides (my friend and I standing on the sides even got a piece of candy). Whether this is to keep the children engaged in this long procession or make them associate the procession with getting candy is a mystery.
4. No one really knows why the KKK decided to adopt a version of this outfit for their organization. Some think that it loosely based upon the aspect of religion, some think it has to do with the fact that these outfits represent brotherhood and togetherness. Others think it’s because they wanted anonymity. Perhaps it’s a combination.
5. The floats in this procession are huge–and very heavy. They are carried atop somewhere between 35-45 people underneath them, and require precision and balance for the people carrying them. Each time a float is lifted (they are put down and picked up periodically) the crowd applauds, to appreciate these people and commend them for their hard work.
Even though this procession had a huge turnout, it is by far not the most impressive in Spain. Seville is known for it’s dedication to this holiday–their procession attracts thousands of people, and is far more intense. People walk down the streets and whip themselves, while others walk around barefoot, and in shackles. The procession in Mallorca was light-hearted, comparatively.