Holy Week Outside of Andalucía: Semana Santa Zamorana

Sevilla is famous for its Holy Week processions. When most people (even in Spain) think of Holy Week, they imagine Sevilla, or at the very least, Andalucía. But hold up a second …

© Copyright - J.Pascual

© Copyright – J.Pascual

What is Holy Week anyway?

In my part of the U.S., we grew up celebrating Easter. In Spanish, the word is Pascua, but you won’t often Spaniards talking about Pascua. Rather, they speak with fervent passion about Holy Week, procesiones, pasos, and costaleros. I know: I just got real with you on the Spanish vocabulary, but we’ll get to that in a bit. The important thing to remember is that Easter celebrations here last more than a week, starting with viernes de dolores (the Friday before Palm Sunday) up to lunes de Pascua (Easter Monday, the day after Easter Sunday). As I work at a high school, my holidays lasted from Friday, April 11, to Monday, April 21. Think of it as my spring break. While many choose to travel abroad during this time, most of the Zamoranos I know stay put to celebrate Holy Week in their hometown.

Holy Week started in the Middle Ages as a way to make penance and to remind the people about the Passion of the Christ. Generally the processioners wear nazareños (penitential robes) and capirotes/caperuzos (hoods) to mask their identities. They may carry processional candles or wooden crosses. Some walk the streets barefoot.

Every procession is carried out by a cofradía/hermadad, a brotherhood. In Sevilla people are generally a member of one, but in Zamora, membership is much less costly, and many choose to be a member of more than one. In the procession, the brothers (and sisters) either walk or carry a paso (from Latin: scene, suffering), which are elaborate religious floats. They often weigh quite a bit, meaning that those who carry it (called costaleros) have to be ready to support quite a lot of weight for many hours! Good thing there are breaks! These pasos are often centuries old, and they are the main draw for those who come to watch the processions. The pasos are often accompanied by bands playing marchas procesionales, or processional marching music.

Holy Week in Zamora

Spain’s oldest Holy Week procession is not from Sevilla or Málagait’s from Zamora! The earliest processions can be traced back to a 12th-century written by King Alfonso X’s brother:

“… Otro si el obispo e el Cabildo e la clerecía de Çamora ayan libremiente entrada e salida sobre la puerta de Mercadiello, para cantar los viersos e fazer presentaçión de Nuestro Sennor en día de Ramos a servitio de Dios, e del Rey, e de mí, e a onra de la cipdat, assí commo fue siempre usado e otorgado por el Conceyo..

Confession: I love that old Castilian, and the fact that Zamora was spelled Çamora.

Zamorans are almost universally proud of their Holy Week, declared Fiesta of International Tourist Interest of Spain in 1986. They even have a statue dedicated el Merlú, members of a brotherhood who play the cornet and drum to call the brothers to start the procession. (Video here)

Merlú Zamora Spain

Holy Week in Spain differs from that of Andalucía in that it is quite somber. It is the main social event of the year. There is always something going on: a procession, a mass, a speech, a meal … from sun up to sun down, if you want to be doing something, you can be. Music is characteristic of the daytime processions, whereas silence and meditation mark the nighttime. My favorite bit is one in which Mario participates on the night of Maundy Thursday, where the hermanos cantores sing The Miserere, a hauntingly beautiful song.  After two and a half hours of procession, the lights are turned off as the brothers of Jesús Yacente stop in the Viriato Plaza. The crowd falls silent, and all that can be heard are tinny bells rung by a few brothers. But suddenly the silence is broken by the brothers’ voices as they sing:

Miserere mei Deus, secundum magnam, misericordiam tuam

After this brief interval, the brotherhood of Jesús Yacente continues their slow, halting procession.

Another procession in which Mario participates is El Silencio. In this one, the brothers take a vow of silence, swearing not to speak for the duration of the procession. Again, this procession, which takes place at night, is markedly different from those in southern Spain or even those that take place during the day in Zamora.

Spain Holy Week

El Silencio ZamoraSource: ABC

Related (and slightly humorous): The brothers of this procession were none too happy when they found out the final game of the Copa del Rey would be played on the same day. (This happened three years ago as well.) They even sent out a nationwide proposal, claiming that this would hurt tourism in Zamora. (Spain has two religions: Catholicism and football soccer.)

These are just two personal examples of Semana Santa in Zamora. If you want to really get into, Radio Televisión Española broadcast one procession, one that my husband and brother-in-law were in. Actually, Mario shows up in this video (at a distance, and you have to work really hard to see him)!

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The Rain in Sevilla

Our trip to Sevilla got off to a rainy start. After checking into our hotel after an unsuccessful attempt to visit the dentist (another story altogether!), night had already fallen. Another thing falling? The rain, of course.


My first view of La Giralda

Luckily, Sevilla is still pretty, even amidst the drizzle. The Christmas lights were lit, and it was hard to feel discontent with the whole city wishing us Felices Fiestas (Happy Holidays).


Everything in Sevilla seemed so cozy

One of my favorite parts was seeing the juxtaposition of an orange tree with Christmas lights. Thus is Sevilla.



Our friend from a town near Sevilla had recommended La Carbonería to us. La Carbonería, according to Tertulia Andaluza, was “the meeting point for the vanguard of Seville, a space for independent and alternative thought.” In the past, the site was a coal warehouse, thus the name, which in English would be “The Coalyard.” In 1975, Paco Lira converted it into the place it is today, a venue to hear and see flamenco, for ideas, for art of all kinds.

We saw a flamenco show and ate food off paper towels. It was an intriguing show. What’s more, it was packed. Good thing we got there early.




I found the female dancer especially intriguing. There was something there in her face, impossible to articulate but powerful nonetheless. She may not have been famous, but her whole self radiated the spirit of flamenco.

The next day we got up, and after a quick visit to the dentist who confused me with his sevillano pronunciation, we had some breakfast. Mario took his Cola Cao with extra sugar.


I had a tostada con jamón along with a café con leche.


Mario chose to go with a recommendation from our waitress, the pringá. Pringá comes from the verb pringar, meaning to dip or to dunk in this case, is made up of the ingredients from the traditional Spanish cocido, known as puchero in many places. The meat portion, which consists of things like morcilla (blood sausage), chorizo, and tocino (fat), is cooked along with the rest of the stew, and then made into a spread to eat with bread. Yum! Actually, it was quite good, we both agreed, although perhaps a bit more fuerte than the typical Spanish breakfast.


Next on the docket was a bit of sightseeing. Of course, you can’t go to Sevilla without seeing the cathedral and la Giralda.


La Giralda is a former minaret that the Christians made into a bell tower for Sevilla’s cathedral. It stands high above the Patio de los Naranjos (Orange Tree Courtyard). The area of the courtyard is supposedly the area the old mosque occupied, as two of the courtyard’s exterior walls belonged to. During the time of the Muslim occupation of Spain, the area served as the space for the Muslims’ activities, including cemetery and cultural events.


Seen from above, as we climbed the Giralda


Besides seeing the sites, we also wandered around a bit. Getting “lost” (is it possible to get lost with a smart phone nowadays?) is one of my favorite ways to see a city.


We had lunch at Bar Alfalfa, another recommendation from our Sevillana friend. A real winner! We really enjoyed the food we had, and with the prices in Sevilla, you can’t go wrong.

After a bit more wandering, we headed over to the Plaza de España, where it was already starting to get dark.  Unlike most Spanish plazas, this one is not centuries old. It was built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition (often referred to simply “la expo” by Spaniards), which was held in 1929. Along its walls there are tiled alcoves, each of which represents a Spanish province, from Álava to Zaragoza.


It has also been used as a film set: in Lawrence of Arabia, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace,and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.

Our day in Sevilla ended with—you guessed it!—more tapas at a popular local bar, Los Coloniales, located in the town center. These tapas included, of course, the typical Sevillan picos, a type of small crunchy breadsticks. They usually accompany ham/chorizo/cheese, but we found them to come with almost anything! Yum!

Have you ever been to Sevilla?

It’s Christmas

The lights were blurry as they whizzed by. My cocoa was still too hot to drink. It smelled marvelous, almost magical. Dad switched on the radio, the announcer’s voice crackly and distant. “… Santa and his reindeer were spotted tonight,” he was saying. My pulse quickened and I imagined a tiny silhouette of a sleigh, of eight reindeer dancing in the inky night sky. Santa’s on his way 

From the window our tree blinked. The car pulled neatly into the garage, and we leapt out, eager to enter the house’s glowing warmth. The heat hit us as I pulled upon the door, my glasses fogging up. Four stockings hung above a cheery fire in anticipation of presents. It was finally time to open the first gift of Christmas. I ran into the living room and flopped myself down onto the couch,ready to feel the thrill that the unknown evokes. The present was always pajamas, yes, but the knowledge could not take away my excitement at the prospect of ripping off the red and green paper, of the scent of newness upon the clothes as I held them up.

But first…first, we read from the oversized family Bible with its gold-rimmed pages. In the days of Caesar Augustus… began my mother, stealing glances at my brother and me, our feet dangling over the edge of the couch, our eyes lovingly focused on her for this moment, this one magic moment. The story, although familiar, the phrases well-worn in the deep recesses of our memories, yet the words never lost their magic. For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Savior is given.

Soon enough, it was time. Time to set out Santa’s snack, to write him a letter, to thank him. My hands grasped the pencil tightly, etching the words onto the lined sheet of paper. Thank you for the presents. I hope you enjoy the snacks. In our home, Santa ate snack cakes and Pepsi, not cookies and milk, an eerily similar combination to what my father ate on a daily basis, but my mind failed to make the connection. My father promised to set out food for the reindeer, and off to bed we went, our bellies full of cocoa and anticipation.

Snuggled under the covers, sleep evaded me. The Christmas lights outside twinkled, a tease that told me I still had a good eight hours to wait. I could not help but listen for the distant jingle of sleigh bells, of hoofbeats, of the snack wrapper being opened. I turned over, sighed, and wished for sleep. Sleep never came easily that night. Santa was on his way, could be placing carefully gift-wrapped packages under the twinkling tree this very second, and sleep would not come.

Soon enough, however, light bled faintly through my blinds. Jolting myself awake, I sat up in bed, my pulse once again picking up speed. Was Seth awake? I had to use the bathroom, but dared not leave my room for fear of seeing the surprises awaiting me in the other room. It was a dilemma – to exit or not to exit? My full bladder told me one thing while my mind told me another. And so I waited anxiously. Perhaps five minutes went by, perhaps ten. But I had to leave, could not stay, my racing mind unable to take the  weighted speculation. Seth too was awake, his face lined with the anxiousness I felt. Together we waited impatiently. We raised our high-pitched child voices, stomped around the tiled bathroom, flushed the toilet, all in the hopes of being heard in the other wing of the house. We dared not enter the bounds of the living room, dared not catch a glimpse of the presents awaiting us under the tree, but we longed for our parents to awaken, to venture into our bedrooms and say breathily, “Merry Christmas, my love!” whilst gathering us up in a hug that meant safety, love, and magic. A hug that, in the end, meant Christmas itself.

The presents were never the reason I loved Christmas. They were nice, sure: dolls and sweaters and lip gloss, smelling of everything my girlhood represented. But Christmas, for me, was more than just a box in snowman wrapping paper. It was the smell of cinnamon rolls in the oven, laughter, nose-crinkling smiles, snow falling softly outside my window, mashed potatoes with obscene amounts of butter, spoons on noses at the kids’ table…Christmas could not be contained in a box wrapped in red paper. Christmas was family, was fellowship, was cookies baking in the oven, was the love that my parents and I could not express in words.

To this day, I am unable to say what Christmas means to me. I once heard that when you turn 24, they neglect to tell you that you are still 23, 22, 21 … 1 years old too. So when I wake up this December 25, forgive me for feeling like a child once again, full of hope and anticipation and desire for the magic of Christmas.