Sunday, April 20, 2014

Semana Santa y Pascua

Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is a week long national holiday in Spain. Students a free from school for as much as two weeks, depending on how the calendar falls, and businesses are closed for as many as four days in a single nine day period. Festivities start the Friday that comes a week before Easter and do not stop until Easter Sunday.

The highlights of the the celebrations are the processions. A series of parades with people dressed in the clothes of priests and monks while carrying wooden statues of events in the life of Jesus, per catholic biblical tradition. The most famed are those that take place in the Southern cities, especially Seville, where the procession participants carry the statues directly on their shoulders, carrying weight that can cause them to bleed. People walk together, crying. In the Northern half of Spain, people are a little less dramatic in their dedication to the tradition. However, they are as colorfully celebrated. I attended processions in Santander and Palencia.

 Many of the traditional clothes are startling and disturbing to anyone from the US, due to the resemblance to the racist group, the KKK. However, these hoods have a much older history and tradition than any group founded in the US. They are worn as a way to keep one's identity secret while giving penitence.

 The robes come in a variety of colors, which are associated with the particular procession taking place. Some people bear crosses, some bear flags, and others just walk, barefooted.

The statues on Holy Thursday in Palencia represent the eleven phases of the crucifixion, including everything from the last supper and the washing of the disciples' feet to the crucifixion itself and the tears of the Virgin Mary. 

Spanish Catholicism reveres the Virgin Mary as one of the most important biblical figures. Often art pieces and statues dedicated to her are the most gilded and elegant. In the processions of Holy Thursday, she was the climax point of the march, carried as the second to last figure, the largest carried statue in the whole batch. Fresh flowers surround the bejeweled, mourning mother. As this one passed our eyes, I listened to the crowd murmur about how beautiful she is.

Semana Santa is one of the most important celebrations in all of Spain, but brings interesting challenges for travelers. If you arrive by car, or even on foot, to a place where a procession is taking place, you may have to wait a full hour before you can pass. If you think you're going to eat out or do some shopping during these festivities, think again. Especially in smaller towns and cities, holidays mean that everything, except emergency services, closes. Most cities have mandatory closure of stores on national holidays, Sundays, and during lunch hours. Some restaurants and bars can be open, but many close voluntarily.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Boys Will be Boys

 Like the common cold, there are certain games, hobbies, and products that catch on at elementary schools like a wild fire. Quickly spreading in Spain right now are these simple rubber-bands that the children weave into bracelets, necklaces, rings, and other objects. One of my 4th graders gave me this one. There is scarcely a child in the school that I haven't seen with a handful of rubber-bands or a bracelet made of them. It is like a rhyme or a song that students can't get out of their head, they chant it all day long, distracting them from class. With these, the kids in the back hide piles of rubber-bands under their desk as the deftly weave their little trinkets. Teachers chide "Not in class!" Students don't hear them. Or choose not to listen, at any rate. It is far worse, and far more distracting, than the forever hobbies like collecting football (soccer) cards or using jump-rope rhymes, because it is a fad.
What is most curious to me about this particular fad is that making craft-jewelry seems to the American mind incredibly feminine. And yet, there are at least as many boys with these as girls. It was a nine-year-old boy that gave me this one. One of my private students, a thirteen-year-old boy, also offered to make me one. The teachers say nothing about this curious situation, and I realize how biased my mind is towards what boys are 'supposed' to do as a hobby. There isn't even a major difference in color choices between girls and boys with their rubber-band jewelry. Although, a great deal more of the boys seem to pick colors based on a football team than do the girls.

Now, it is not to say that there are no differences between the boys and girls, especially in fashion. Although I suspect a great deal of parental influence in those aspects, because the older they are, the less difference there is among elementary students. Most girls in 1st and 2nd grade wear blouses, skirts, and tights with ballet flats or boots. Most boys wear jeans or trousers with a t-shirt and sneakers. In 3rd, 4th, and 5th, some girls wear skirts or dresses, but a good many wear track-suits or trousers with sneakers. In 6th, there is once again a strong difference, as the young ladies attempt to express their individuality and maturity. Puberty is a complicated age, after all. But, I have yet to see a boy in this school in a dress or skirt. Some gender barriers are still taboo to cross.

At the very least, adornments and accessories are no longer just for girls. The handful of boys at this school with ear piercings should be enough to show that, considering that many girls in Spain are given ear piercings at birth to help distinguish them from their male peers when dressed. I am curious to see the shifts in society as traditionally 'feminine' behavior and fashion becomes normalized for boys and men.