During the week leading up to Easter, Christians around the world come together to remember the last days of Jesus’ life. From centuries-old processions through the streets to being doused with buckets of water in a courting ritual, Holy Week, which began on Palm Sunday and continues until Easter Sunday, is marked differently around the world.
Here are four places you could go to immerse yourself in some of the traditions this week.
1. Seville, Spain
Holy Week, or Semana Santa, is one of Seville’s biggest religious festivals. Some locals spend all year preparing for the week of parades, which are led by different religious brotherhoods. They include giant floats featuring wooden sculptures depicting scenes from Christ’s life, some of which date back to the 17th century. Each float in the procession is carried by a group of devoted locals and people walk behind repenting their sins. The parade can take up to 12 hours.
2. The Vatican, Rome
If you want a traditional Easter service, you can’t get much better than seeing the spiritual head of the Catholic Church himself. Held by Pope Francis in Saint Peter’s Square, Easter Sunday Holy Mass is attended by around 80,000 people. At noon, the Pope gives the Easter message and blessing, known as Urbi et Orbi, from the central balcony on Saint Peter’s Basilica. If you’re thinking about turning up to try and catch the service though, think again, as tickets are booked months in advance. But if you like your food, make sure you stick around for Easter Monday, when celebrations to mark the end of Lent have good grub at their heart.
3. Antigua, Guatemala
The city of Antigua is home to one of the biggest Easter celebrations in the world, in which the Passion, the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus are commemorated. The air is filled with scents of flower petals and incense as men dressed in purple robes carry large sculptures of Jesus through the streets. The tradition of the procession was brought over by Spanish missionaries in the 16th century, and now the whole city, and thousands of visitors, take part.
‘Locsolás’, or ‘sprinkling’ is an old Hungarian Easter courting custom that takes place in towns and villages across the country every year. It comes from the idea that women are considered to be flowers, who will wither and die without proper care. Traditionally, girls of marriageable age would be ‘sprinkled’ with water by potential suitors, in the hope they go on to become good wives and have lots of children. In exchange, the men were given painted eggs, chocolate treats, and a shot of Hungarian fruit brandy, called pálinka. Whether in traditional dress or casual clothes, people still get involved with the tradition today. It makes for a lot of fun to watch – or take part in, if you’re feeling daring.