Easter in Spain

March 2005

About this time every year, I get impatient dealing with the ice and frost on my windshield - it is a lingering reminder of winter. Then, when I look beyond the glass and notice buds sprouting on the stark branches of the roadside trees, I feel happy and energized. Here in Williamsburg there will be sunny daffodils and forsythias; then elegant dogwoods in the woods, followed by a blaze of azaleas as winter fast becomes a faded memory. 

I am sure that my feeling is not unique -- the arrival of spring has always had spiritual dimension for all humanity. Our spirits revive when we experience the earth renewing herself - whether it be the shoots of the first bulbs pushing through the soil, or the pink or white flowers adorning the fruit trees. 

Those of us who are of a religious nature express our appreciation of renewal in our celebration of Easter or Passover. (In the Spanish language the word for these holiest of holidays for Jews and Christians is the same, Pascua.) In America, some will stay up for an Easter Vigil at their church, or will get up at dawn for a community Sunrise Service. Since Spaniards have so much older traditions upon which to draw, these community observances are more deeply ingrained in their culture.

I remember one night during Holy Week many years ago in El Puerto de Santa Maria. In the middle of the night I was standing with Ruth and our five year old son in his darkened bedroom watching through the wrought iron grille of the window as a silent procession wended its way down the cobblestone street of our town. Our son had been awakened by muffled drums and the shuffle of the feet of a religious brotherhood, silently and faithfully performing their annual ritual.

Another time I witnessed a Corpus Christi procession in the seaside town of Sitges. The streets of the route were paved with flower petals arranged in elaborate symmetrical designs - curiously, the origin of the floral patterns of this Christian celebration must have come from a distant Moorish past. 

Of course, this kind of community celebration group is not confined to springtime. All over Spain in early January children crowd the streets to welcome the procession of the Three Kings -- one of whom was always dressed as a Moor -- as they enter the town on horseback distributing candy to the children. In all of these occasions, Holy Week, Corpus Christi and Three Kings Day townspeople from all sorts of backgrounds are gathered in a community celebration.

The most significant expression of this traditional kind of observance is the pilgrimage route of the Camino de Santiago, a pathway that people of all sorts have trod for over one thousand years. It stretches across northern Spain from The Pyrenees of France to the windswept shores of Galicia where it is believed that in the holy city of Santiago de Compostela lay the bones of St James. 

In a way one could call all of us pilgrims; it is a good metaphor for our travel through life. My wish for you this spring is that you to stop to savor the renewal of life around you in nature or in your spiritual journey. May your spirit be lifted during this special time of year.

Tu amigo,