As you know, Spain has been an extremely Catholic country for most of its history. However, for seven hundred years Muslims controlled the Iberian Peninsula which is probably a good reason why today Spain is so preoccupied with making Catholic holidays extremely extravagant. Of course, the two most important holidays in the Catholic calendar are Christmas and Easter. Obviously, I won't be able to experience the Christmas season here in Spain; however, I did get the opportunity to catch a glimpse of how Easter is celebrated here. La Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebrates the week that Jesus was crucified, died and then rose from the dead. In Leon, there is a special celebration of Semana Santa famous throughout all of Spain. However, the city of Sevilla supposedly has the most spectacular celebration in all of Spain. Madrid and Barcelona, the most secular cities in Spain, don't have much of a celebration for this week; but, many other small cities and towns have a long tradition of celebrating Semana Santa.
Processions are the most important part of each of these types of celebrations. Basically, individuals carry enormous statues along different paths in the city with each path and statue symbolizing something important in the Catholic religion, and usually each procession ends at a church or the Cathedral.
During Semana Santa in Leon, there were usually 3 or 4 processions each night, lasting about an hour for each. However, there are really 5 important days during Semana Santa: Palm Sunday (when Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem 5 days before he was crucified), Holy Thursday (Jesus' Last Supper with his Apostles before getting arrested), Good Friday (the day Jesus was crucified), Holy Saturday (Jesus is in his tomb) and Easter Sunday (when Jesus rose from the dead). The processions on these days are the most important, especially Good Friday when there is a nine-hour procession starting in Leon's Plaza Mayor.
These statues are carried by 25-40 individuals because of their weight and each individual is wearing an important Catholic garment. Americans, at first, are usually alarmed by these garments because they were copied by the Ku Klux Klan. Also, each procession is organized by a different brotherhood, a Catholic group of lay people who help with various Catholic events throughout the year. Historically, these groups were strictly designed for men but today there are some brotherhoods that are co-ed. For example, my roommate is a member of a brotherhood and participated in one of these processions in his small town near Leon. One of my professors, as well, is in one and helped with several processions in Leon during Semana Santa. A lot of hard work, money and organization is put into these celebrations and it has been a tradition going on for many, many centuries despite the declining practice of Catholicism in Spain in the past decades.
The Good Friday Celebration in Plaza Mayor that begins at 8am.