It’s that time again; Holy week is just round the corner. Semana Santa in Sevilla is about to kick off when hundreds of Nazarenos form in their processions while on a penitence, thousands of spectators absorb the atmosphere while throwing their pipas – seed shells, on the floor, and plenty of Sevillanos cry while their Christs or Virgens pass, or because their procession gets cancelled due to rain.
Whether you love or hate Semana Santa, you can’t live in Sevilla without being affected by the craziness that surrounds this immense festival. Personally, I’m a massive fan (I even participate in a procession, one of the benefits of being married to a Sevillana whose family are members of a brotherhood), at least until the Friday, by then I’ve usually had enough and can’t wait to back to normality, go to bed at a reasonable time, and be able to walk around the city without planning several hours in advance.
If you’re sticking around to watch the processions this year, or are coming over as a visitor, then here are a few expressions that might come in useful as you are out and about watching pasos or having a beer with some locals.
‘Esta preciosa’ – ‘She’s beautiful’
You can use this one while, or just after, a Virgin passes, especially La Macarena, although to her you’d be better off shouting ‘Guapa, Guapa,’ like her followers do. I’m not a huge admirer of the Virgin processions. Even after all these years they seem pretty similar, I know they’re not, but once you’ve seen one hundred, you think you’ve seen them all, or just the same one a hundred times. I’m more eager to wait around an hour, or even two, to see a decent Christ procession though. That’s where the passion and excitement lies for me, especially as La Madrugada approaches.
There is something special about the Virgin pasos though. The energy and effort that has been put into the preparation, the power and strength used to carry them, and the uplifting music that follows. So remember that expression to show your appreciation as you stand in a huge crowd and watch as it disperses to let through the beauty of Semana Santa.
‘¿A que hora sale / entra?’ – ‘What time does it leave, or enter?’
Without doubt, for me the best moments of Semana Santa are seeing an excellent Salida or Entrada. That’s where most of the emotion lies; either because the procession starts and can finally happen, or the relief that it has survived and is safely back inside the temple. It’s no wonder that some fanatics wait up to four hours outside a church to see a certain procession come out. The first time that Semana Santa really impressed me was when I saw the Entrada of Santa Cruz. That moment when the costalleros had to go on their knees and bounce along the wooden floor to enable the paso to enter through the low door made me a lifelong appreciator.
Watching the Entrada of La Macarena is special too, especially as she does spins under the arch after almost thirteen hours walking. The Salida of El Silencio is something else as well. Unfortunately it gets so busy and people push a lot. Even some Nazarenos that arrive late tend to barge through the crowd knocking spectators out the way. But seeing, and listening to the Christ jingle along as everyone falls silent is a must see. Get there an hour or two early though and be ready to be pushed about.
‘Aqui no puedes pasar’ – “You can’t pass here’
One of the annoying aspects of Semana Santa is trying to get about through the crowds. As mentioned, some wait all afternoon in a spot where they know they’ll get an excellent view, and if you try to shove your way passed, then be wary of getting an elbow in the ribs, or shouted at by a group of old ladies with spiked handbags and deathly umbrellas.
Getting back to your flat or hotel which is being blocked by a couple of hundred people, or wanting to see another procession and need to bundle through a crowd, can become extremely frustrating. You sometimes need lots of planning, and deep knowledge of the city and routes of the processions to stand a chance of getting anywhere on time.
Luckily, I’ve learnt from the best. My father-in-law is pretty good at shoving his way through a crowd. If I’m waiting, I generally let people through, but I have a limit to the number of people who tread on my toes, normally not saying sorry in the process. One year I was waiting to see a procession, it was late at night, and a bloke shoved me out the way and put a ladder in front of me so he could stand on it to take better photos. I gave him a few words after the procession had finished.
‘¿Va a llover?’ – ‘Is it going to rain?’
Semana Santa is often ruined by the rain. Over the years I’ve spent many a day during Holy Week in the pub instead of watching processions because they’ve been cancelled, which isn’t such a bad thing I guess.
I used to wonder what all the fuss was about. Why can’t they just put a plastic sheet over the Virgin’s head, or let the Nazarenos take umbrellas? No chance. The pasos are laced with gold and the material used to cover them can be hundreds of years old, the slightest drop of rain could destroy years of looking after. Some brotherhoods are more flexible with taking the risk to leave the church if rain is cast, but others wouldn’t dream of it.
The rain is a massive determiner of what you’ll do with you week, so get a plan B ready, even if it is just to tour round the many bars in Sevilla.
‘Vaya bulla’ – ‘What a crowd!’
Las Bullas – the crowds, are one of the most nerve-racking, and at times terrifying, parts of the festival. They can be extremely dangerous and if you get caught up in one the best thing to do is just keep calm, have patience, or faint so they pass you across the crowd.
I got stuck in one a few years back right by the cathedral. I was trapped behind a woman with a pushchair, of which you will find loads causing havoc blocking up the paths, and everyone was knocking into her as they came from the other direction. One person even fell on the pushchair squashing the kid. I had to help the mum in the end by pushing a few people out the way because she was going to get crushed.
The crowds form in the centre because police block off certain roads to let the processions through, or when a huge amount of people are trying to get somewhere. As with most things in Spain, or Sevilla at least, there is little order or control and the crowds can spoil a great day. So be warned.
‘Nazareno, dame una stampita’ – ‘Nazareno, give me a stamp.’
This is one for the younger generation, and I’m not referring to a stamp on the foot (although I’m sure a few do after losing their patience), but rather a small photo of their Christ or Virgin. The first time this happened to me I was sitting in Las Sillas, the posh seats near Campana, and a small child handed out a stamp for me, I think I still have it somewhere. It’s a cute tradition that each of the brotherhoods have to give out pictures. Kids also collect melted wax from the Nazarenos giant candles, which is always lovely to see. So you can use that expression when you see Nazarenos walking about with a small basket. Some don’t give out stamps, or sweets, so don’t bother asking. It gets annoying when you’re on the inside and people don’t respect the fact that you are a slightly more serious brotherhood.
Most of the times you need not say anything though. Just a look in the eye of a true Sevillano after they have seen their favourite procession pass says it all. It’s an emotional week for all who are deeply involved. It takes years before you really appreciate the passion that is felt here during this period, so If you do come over, or are sticking about, then go with some locals and ask plenty of questions. Hope you have a good one.