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La Semana Santa

semana santa tarifa

Easter week, which takes place in March or April, depending on the Christian calendar, is dedicated to the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter week is a big celebration in Spain. The festivities vary from region to region. In Castilla (Central to Northern Spain) the atmosphere is contemplative and quiet. Processions walk without music. In Southern Spain the processions are upbeat and spectacular with a more festive spirit. The locals celebrate until dawn in the streets and the local bars.

In Andalusia Semana Santa is no longer just a religious festival, but an arts and social gathering. A large number of people participate in the festivities. In Tarifa as well as some other towns there is one or even several processions a day. Every day a different guild takes to the street with a statue of the virgin Marie or Jesus. Each day a piece of Christ passion is performed. For example on Palm Sunday the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is reenacted and on Good Friday his funeral takes place. The origin of these processions comes from the middle ages. Because most of the faithful did not know how to read, the suffering of Jesus was portrayed as theater performances. Eventually statues were built and paraded through the streets. During the baroque times the figures took on a dramatic look, for example Jesus with wounds all over his body and a very pained facial expression. The figure of the virgin Marie was decorated with richly embroidered dresses and jewelry. Additionally, to make her look more melodramatic tears where carved into her face.

These wooden figures are carried through the villages on a small platform. It takes several people to lift and carry them on their shoulders. The carriers cannot see thus escorts accompany them. It is a great honor to be selected as one of the carriers. The remorseful are walking in front of the formation. They wear long robes and a pointy hat, which covers the whole face except the eyes. They actually do resemble the Klu-Klux-Klan. The disguise allowed the believers to ask for forgiveness of their sins anonymously. The custom goes all the way back to Italy in the 12th century and eventually made it?way to Spain. During the Spanish inquisition the Jews were made to wear these hats to make them look ridiculous.

Some sinners are still punishing themselves with a whip on their back until bloody. Often the sinners are still walking without shoes to increase their suffering. Each procession lasts for hours. The longest one in Seville lasts from Thursday night until Friday afternoon.

The tunics within the groups are the same color. Each guild selects their own colors. There is a competition between the different guilds for the most beautiful and jewelry adorned virgin Marie and the Jesus figure with the most pain stricken face. The competition between the guilds in Seville is as fierce as the competition between their soccer teams.

Marching bands accompany all processions. The songs are religious. The processions that move through the unlit streets of Tarifa with the Jesus and Virgin figures only illuminated by a candle leave the spectators with a spiritual and mystical feeling. If the weather is spring like the experience is enhanced even more.

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