Depending on where you are today, you might be collecting hidden chocolate eggs, having a family lunch, lighting a bonfire atop a hill, or going to Church. In Catholic countries, one doesn’t exactly go to church, but rather, the church comes to YOU.
Easter might be the only holiday in Spain that is not about shoveling food down your throat non-stop. The concept is simple: someone in the 15th century decided to take their sculpted Biblical personalities out on the street. That way, the common folks would experience Jesus’ last days on Earth, relive his pain, and repent for being such dreadful sinners. The idea spread like wildfire, and nowadays Easter in some provincial locations of Spain looks like this:
Source: Pixabay – Semana Santa
If I were an unknowing tourist right there, happened to make a turn and bump into these people, I would run away so far that not even Google would be able to find me. But fear not, these people are not here to murder you in your sleep. This somewhat creepy outfit represents the Christian sacrament of penance i.e. reconciliation with God. Pretty much like football teams, each congregation has its own penitential robe, conical hat, flags and symbols. They take the streets carrying their pasos (floats), each more lavishly decorated than the next, depicting scenes of the Easter story.
For a whole week, some Spanish cities and towns look like this. Every major street turns into a heavily incense-scented escape room. For a whole week, there’s a grave, gloomy atmosphere lurking all over the place, and Catholics really feel “it”. Basically everyone is devastated until Jesus comes back from the dead. Yes, the dead.Growing up in rural Andalusia, Catholicism was ubiquitous. Reciting prayers in kindergarten gave way to Sunday mass and Bible study in school, and that’s where trouble began. The stories just didn’t hold up.
For instance, Noah would have had to build a 10,000 square meter ark – that’s roughly the surface of 30 basketball courts lined up – in order to fit two animals of each kind in his boat. God was a trinity, which meant three persons coexisting in one entity. Nothing weird about that. There was this dude who allegedly feed a multitude with five loaves of bread and two fish. I’m sorry, that’s not a meal. It’s not even tapas. The guy who wrote the Bible had clearly failed physics, biology, math and common sense across the board 1.
Creationists didn’t like questions, so I was told that biblical texts were not meant to be taken literally, but rather understood as the story of a nice guy who went around preaching love and doing good things. That was a relief. Basically, being Christian was about acting nice and loving thy neighbor – unless your neighbors were gay, agnostic, promiscuous, black, Muslim, or belonged to any other deranged minority. Catholicism wasn’t exactly fond of the ladies either. Just because Eve ate the apple, all women were by default the root of all evil and needed to be kept in line 2.
Fortunately, things have come a really long way.
Nowadays, participating in the Easter parades is more about aesthetics and folklore than religion itself, and I do understand the artistic value of sculpted scenes and the street performances 3.
I also understand the human need to belong, to have some sense of community. Religion has fulfilled that role for centuries: it kept people together and gave the common folks some reassurance in times of plagues and famines. It served its purpose at a time when science wasn’t there to explain miracles.
My point being: how is THIS still a thing?