By Madi Weaver



Semana Santa is one of the largest religious celebrations in the world and is celebrated in almost every Spanish speaking country. This time of celebration is referred to in English as Holy Week which is the week before Easter, beginning on Palm Sunday (1). The week long celebration is extremely important within the Spanish speaking culture, and many of these countries celebrate using traditions that are hundreds of years old. Although most of these traditions originate from Spain, the mixture of new cultures has caused each country to develop their own unique aspects of this celebration (2).

Costaleros practicing how to walk with the floats
Seville, Spain

Seville’s celebration of Semana Santa has the most famous traditions in the world. The is filled with parades following different routes in Seville and all ending at the same church that they began their journey at. There are four main aspects to these parades: pasos, costaleros, nazarenos, and la banda de música (3). Known in English as ‘floats’, Pasos are the main attraction of these events. Many of them are decorated with items such as candles and have statues, mostly of Jesus or the Virgin Mary, placed on them. Underneath the floats are groups of men called costaleros who hold up and carry the floats throughout its entire journey. These men walk in sync with each other beneath the float with nothing but their feet exposed to the crowds watching the procession.

Next are the nazarenos or penitents who “accompany the pasos in the march and in some cases number more than 2,000 for certain processions” (3). These men stand out extraordinarily in their outfits that are surprisingly similar to that of the Ku Klux Klan. Capirotes are what the cone-shaped head
Nazarenos wearing capirotes during the procession
coverings are referred to as. However, the capirotes are not something to be associated with evil. The nazarenos wear these coverings because it “hides their identity, the meaning being that God is the only one who knows who they are” (4). Finally, la banda de música will play traditional music as they lead or follow all processions except the few silent ones, thus creating a beat for the pasos to move to.

Popayán, Colombia

Popayán is a city in Colombia that is famous for being a faith-filled place, and one of its largest celebrations is Semana Santa. Similarly to Seville, Popayán’s traditions include processions with pasos. Instead of the many costaleros, there are only four men in the front of the float and four in the back to carry it throughout the journey, and these eight men are called cargueros (5). The processions in this city are very similar to the ones of Seville’s celebration; however, the number of parades in Popayán is far less. There are only six processions for this city’s celebration of Semana Santa: one on Palm Sunday and five night processions that begin on Tuesday and end on Holy Saturday (6).

Every procession has something different about it: one day it is the children’s parade, while another day starts off the procession with a military band. Although there are differences between the days, the entire week of processions “recreate the characters and scenes of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ” (6). Popayán also has the Religious Music Festival during this week which results in music on the streets before, during, and after the processions by musicians from all over Colombia and other parts of the world. It is obvious that many of the traditions in the celebration of Semana Santa has been passed over from Spain; however, the music and style of the processions have been altered by Popayán’s culture and history.

Mexico D.F., Mexico

Just south of Mexico City is Iztapalapa, the location of one of the most popular religious celebrations in the world. During Semana Santa, Iztapalapa puts on a passion play: the recreation of the passion and death of Jesus Christ. Often starting with the last supper and ending with the crucifixion, passion plays are a very
Chinelos in Mexico City
important and meaningful celebration of Semana Santa. The entire community comes together to act as the different people in the story, and the streets of Iztapalapa becomes their stage (7). The production is a tradition that over one million people have traveled to see. Iztapalapa is not the only place in Mexico that has this tradition, for many Mexican cities act out passion plays, and these plays are often what make up their processions in the streets throughout Semana Santa. Passion plays demonstrate how the idea of the processions and honoring the passion and death of Christ derived from Spain’s celebrations, but Mexico has been able to add its own unique qualities to it.

One unique tradition in Mexico D.F. during Semana Santa is called the ‘Burning of Judas’ which originated in Mexico during protest against the Spanish Inquisition. The townspeople can come together during this tradition and create “paper mache dolls representing unfavorable biblical and public figures then hang them in public areas to be blown up with fireworks” (8). Chinelos, dancers with colorful costumes and masks over their faces, come out to the streets and perform at night before the fireworks go off. Once the figures are blown up by the fireworks, the crowds cheer and celebrate. The burning of Judas definitely proves that there are many traditions that have been formed and changed due to different cultures and history.

Works Cited and Works Consulted:

(1) "Holy Week." The Free Dictionary. N.p.. Web. 28 Nov 2012. < Week>.

(2) "Semana Santa." EHT. N.p.. Web. 28 Nov 2012. < Santa/Semana Santa.html>.

(3) "Insider's Guide: Semana Santa in Seville." Explore Seville. N.p.. Web. 28 Nov 2012. <>.

(4) “Holy Week Seville.” Spanish Fiestas. N.p.. Web. 28 Nov 2012. <>

(5) Deal, Chad. "Semana Santa in Popayan, Colombia." San Diego Reader. N.p.. Web. 28 Nov 2012. <>.

(6) “Celebraciones de Semana Santa en Colombia.” Colombia Travel. N.p.. Web. 28 Nov 2012.


(7) Herz, Max. “Semana Santa in Mexico.” Inside Mexico. N.p.. 28 Nov 2012. <>

(8) Seba, Jessica. “Semana Santa in Mexico City.” Journey Mexico. N.p.. 28 Nov 2012. <>