Why Holy Week in Secular Spain?

Queridos amigos,

One of the first statistics I read about Spain was that about 90% of the poplulation hold to the Roman Catholic faith, yet this seems far from the truth. Every time I visit the Lugo Santa Maria Cathedral, it’s nearly empty, even when attending a mass service. I see more tourists than devoted believers. 

Upon asking my fellow teachers, they told me that the church counts all baby baptisms as induction into the Catholic faith, though families rarely go to church afterwards. Since baby baptisms and first communions are a cultural tradition, but it’s usually the extent of the Catholic faith here. 

El mundo notes that about half of Spaniards ages 18-34 are atheists or non-believers (an age group facing nearly 40% unemployment as well). 

So in anticipating Semana Santa, or Holy Week, I couldn’t help but wonder…Why would a population of so many atheists celebrate Holy Week? 

In the states, spring break is not called Easter break, though it falls on that week usually. We would never call it Holy Week because public schools are non-religious (separation of church and state). 

Turns out, not many actually celebrate Holy Week here as a religious tradition, rather, it’s celebrated as a cultural tradition in a non-religious fashion

When I asked my students what they were going to do this week, they said Cabareiro! A drinking fest consisting of mainly university students. 

I asked one student about the Semana Santa parades, and he said he had never even been to one (this coming from a Lucense). 

As I watched a parade, a band and  huge float of saints, many people were sitting apart, drinking at cafes or playing fútbol in the plaza rather than watching the parade. 

My brother could see why. “I’m bored,” he said, as we watched people dressed in hoods eerily reminiscent of the KKK ones try to load the Maria float on their shoulders. 

When my father asked someone in the crowd what the hoods were for, the man answered that he didn’t know. “It’s always been that way,” he said. 

My teacher explained that in the past the cofres were used in penitence to hide the face of the sinner from public eyes. 

I admit I’m puzzled. Is Semana Santa cultural knowledge dying out?

I’m not sure, but whatever the case, there were a lot of parades this week and plenty of people did attend. I found it fascinating. 

One poor guy had the most difficult time with his nose stuck in the eye slit of his hood-mask. 

Feliz pascua! Happy Easter! And for those of you who aren’t celebrating Easter, I hope you have a lovely break from school. 

Hasta luego,



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