Differences between Easter in the US and in Spain
Easter in the United States
Growing up in the southern part of the United States (otherwise known as “The Bible Belt”), Easter did still maintain its religious sentiment, along with the silly, sugar-coated activities that have grown in popularity. The week would begin on Palm Sunday, which would commemorate the day in which Jesus rode into Jerusalem. Our (religious) schools/churches would hang palm fronds throughout the hall, especially on or around any imagery of the Jesus. Four days later, religious families and institutions would then recognize Maudy or Holy Thursday, the day of the last supper. The degree in which people celebrated this day generally depended on their religious affiliation. For us southerners, any excuse to have a big feed was always deemed favorable, but I still knew others who would have smaller suppers with their families and save the church engagements for the weekend to come. Church services/masses would be held on Good Friday, and would typically involve a small symbolic procession or display of imagery to exemplify the gravity of Jesus Christ’s death. People would then generally spend their Holy Saturdays decorating Easter eggs and stuffing the children’s Easter baskets in preparation for The Easter Bunny to arrive, while the other more devoted families may take this day to rest or even fast.
Then, the big day arrived. Many people where I lived would wake up for a sunrise service, then head back home to rest, get ready for the day, or, if you had small children, see what the Easter Bunny had brought to them. Once this finished, most people would spend the bulk of their day at church. Not only was the Resurrection service being held, but there would always be celebration afterwards, complete with heaps of food and games, including the famous Easter-Egg Hunt, for the younger participants.
Religion vs. the Easter Bunny
Though this experience is shared amongst a great deal of people within the U.S., many more no longer really emphasize the religious side of Easter as those in the southern states. With the United States being far more diverse, and therefore making strides to avoid exclusion, the trend of Easter becoming a more fun, children-centric celebration is certainly not being generally contested. It would be quite a shift for someone who grew up in Sevilla or Andalusia, though.
Now, let’s turn to Spain. Using the term ‘extraordinary’ to describe the celebration of Semana Santa in southern Spain would be an understatement, especially here in Seville. March has barely begun, but the city as been preparing since before Christmas. In a few short weeks, the center of the city will be flooded with devoted Spaniards and other enthused spectators from across Europe and the world over. Each hermandad here in Seville has been eagerly preparing their pasos, and the steadfast participants have been strengthening their backs as well. Needless to say, the religious aspects of Holy Week are emphasized far more during the Spanish festivities when compared with the United States. However, such does not come as a surprise when one considers the cultural differences between the two countries.
Why the difference?
First of all, Spain is a much older country, so their traditions go back centuries before the very formation of the U.S. Even here in Seville, people have been performing their arduous processions through the city since around the 16th century, if not before. Spain is also a very proud country, especially in the south. They have such a unique history, much of which is still reflected in their daily lives out of respect for the culture itself. Cultural preservation is even more apparent in regards to their religious ceremonies like Semana Santa. Even though today the week is an exciting time for Sevillanos and tourists alike, the ceremony still maintains a tone of mourning for the death of Christ, as well as repentance by the devoted followers. The ceremonial garb seen in the processions are completely symbolic of such sentiments, as is the arduous task of carrying such heavy images for such long distances. Even if you opt out of carrying a paso, you still cannot speak, eat, or drink whilst participating, which can be up to 12 hours.
Punishment and sorrow are by no means the primary factors involved. One can still find children playing funny games, like collecting balls of wax from the millions of candles throughout the week. They can large family gatherings where traditional dishes and sweets are enjoyed, and the ceremony itself is absolutely jaw-dropping, especially during the night. The week is no less a celebration, however, compared to the U.S., the religious sentiments is simply emphasized more.
This does beg the question, if the United States wants to be generally more neutral regarding religion, why celebrate Easter at all? Is it simply fun for children, or is there a more commercial motivation from candy, egg, and basket producers? No matter the reasoning, a celebration is meant to be shared and enjoyed, and the one that can be witnessed in Seville is truly a spectacle!