Your Survival Guide for Semana Santa and Fería de Abril
never heard of these two spectacular spanish holidays? don’t worry I’m here to help!
After spending four months in Spain, I can say that it’s an absolutely crazy country…and I mean that in the best possible way! Who wouldn’t love a country that takes siestas in the middle of the day, throws tomatoes at each other (La Tomatina), and runs with bulls (Fiesta de San Fermin). You may already know about the things I just mentioned, but you may not have heard of Semana Santa and Fería de Abril which are two important, spectacular holidays that take place in Spain. So I’m going to break these two holidays down for you so you don’t miss out anything!
Semana Santa (Holy Week)
The Basics: Semana Santa is a religious holiday that is celebrated for a week in Catholic Spain. The holiday takes place during the days leading up to Easter Sunday and dates back to the 4th century. The purpose of this holiday is to honor Jesus and Mary and to repent. Members of religious brotherhoods march around the clock throughout the streets to show their penitence and strength of their faith.
What you will see: Passions run high and hundreds of people flood the calles (streets) to watch the processions. I watched several processions and it was simply amazing. For an outsider the white túnica (tunic) and capirote (hood) that completely covers that face and has slits for only the eyes looks all a lot like the KKK. But this traditional attire predates the KKK (who sadly have made a horrible symbol out of this traditionally religious garb). Each brotherhood from the church walks in this dress holding a staff sized velas (candle). Others hold silver staffs and crests and some carry crosses barefoot show their penitence. In the cover of darkness the procession becomes a line of glowing candles that fill the air with the smell of wax. But the most impressive sights are the pasos (floats) carried throughout the streets. It takes sixty men to carrying these. Some are golden with beautifully crafted figures playing out the scene of the Passion while others are of the Vigin Mary protected by a palio (canopy) and surrounded by dozens of candles and white flowers. Sweet incense is expelled as she passes and the crowded hushes as she makes her way through the streets. Even if you’re not religious, it’s impossible to not be stunned by the beautiful pasos (floats) and the fervent love people have for their faith.
Top Semana Santa Experiences:
1) Watch a night procession-
Something magical happens during Semana Santa as the sun sets. Endless rows of candles gleam in the darkness as the procession of cloaked figures shuffle down the narrow streets in solemn silence.
2) Go experience a procession by yourself-
As tempting as it is to face the crowds with a group of friends, you won’t regret breaking away to watch a procession on your own. This will allow you linger longer at a procession that interests you and give you a chance to blend in with the Spanish.
3) Get squashed in mob-
The impressive pasos of Mary sways into the distance and before the tears can dry from people’s eyes, they are up and storming to the next pasos. And I, the innocent bystander was caught in mob. There was nothing to do but be swept by the crowd and avoid being trampled on. It was crazy, but almost a “cultural experience” in my opinion.
Fería de Abril (April Fair):
The Basics: Two weeks after Semana Santa, the Spanish are at it again! So get out your flamenco dress or your tux and get ready to not sleep for a week. Told you it’s a crazy country. Fería de Abril is specifically celebrated in Sevilla. The tradition began in 1847 and started off as livestock fair. It later became a festival that celebrated Spanish culture (and specifically that of the Sevillañas). The festival is located in Sevilla at the end of Calle Asunción in Los Remedio.
What you will see:
If you want to see the Spanish culture at it’s best, you might want to come to Sevilla during Fería. The city looks as if you’ve traveled back in time. There are horses and buggies all over the streets. Women are dressed in colorful flamencos dresses and men wear tuxes. Half of Fería is filled with casetas and the other half is a carnival. The carnival side is a typical fair with games, rides, and a circus. But the caseta half of Fería is the unique part. Casetas are basically huge tents that look like a house on the inside. Most casetas have a cocina (kitchen), bar, and salón (lounge). The inside of each caseta is unique and beautifully decorated. There are chandeliers, lanterns, and paintings making some casetas look like they emerged straight of the pages of some home décor magazine. But people can’t just waltz into any old caseta. Most casetas have a guest list and a guard is in the front making sure you’re on the list. But there are public casetas which turn into mini clubs late at night. I learned that Fería even has its own specialty bebida (drink). It’s called Rebujito and is a mix of Sprite and white wine. And along with your normal dance music is traditional Sevillana dances that pretty much every Sevilla native knows by heart.
Top Fería Experiences:
1) Watch the lighting of the portado:
The entrance way into Fería is called the portado and every year they design a new one. The streets were lined with white and red lanterns and all this (the portado and the lanterns) are lit up at night. Go on the first night that the portado is lit to be part of the rushing excitement during the start of Fería.
2) Wear a flamenco dress-
I was very fortunate that my friend from Sevilla lent me one of her dresses (dress are typically vey expensive). Dressing up in a flamenco dress made Fería ten times more fun! I decided that it was a “go big or go home” type of situation so I accessorized my dress with big hoop earrings, a humongous flower, and a matching shawl. If you can dress up for Fería, you’ll really feel as though you blend in and are experiencing Fería to the fullest.
3) Sneak into a caseta-
Remember when I said casetas are private? This means you’ll have to go to public casetas if you are not invited to a private one. So if you’re feeling a little naughty, try sneak into a private caseta. I managed to accidentally get into one with my friend and we ended up having a great time!