Tuesday, May 27, 2008

May Crosses

Before May is over, we have to talk about May Crosses. There is a long tradition in Seville of May Crosses, and many different customs associated with them, but the one that I like best is the organization of a few boys into their own mini-confraternity.

Semana Santa is such a huge part of Sevillian life -- all year long the preparations are taking place. Even now, in late May, before summer has even set in, people in Seville know how many days are left until next year's Palm Sunday. Semana Santa is a masculine festival, celebrating silence, penitence, honor, sacrifice. Not that women don't share those characteristics, but the expression of them in Semana Santa is somber, austere, and paternal. The Virgin Mary is a major protagonist in Holy Week, of course, but she is always seen through the eyes of observers, while the role of the penitents is designed much more aligned with the sacrifices of Jesus Christ.

And of course, there are two Spring festivals in Seville each year, the Fair being the second one. The Fair is a much more feminine festival, full of laughter and food and lights and color. This may sound like a very stereotypical description of the two festivals, but when you get there, you'll see. They just are this way. And of course, they are many other things as well.

So what do the children get to do? Well, after carefully observing their fathers' ritual preparation for Semana Santa all year long, and then having fun at the Fair, in late Spring the children put on their own procession with a float, and music.

I saw one of my favorite cruces de mayo on the Calle Sierpes one day in May of 1997. Three boys had built a small float from a refrigerator box, and it had a lovely lace tablecloth over it, and flowers, and a cross draped with a cloth. One boy walked in front of the float, guiding the boy who was underneath the box. And one boy walked behind, carrying a small boom box with processional music playing. Suddenly, the box fell apart in the middle of Calle Sierpes, and the cross and the tablecloth fell on top of the boy who was inside. The two boys on the outside started to laugh, and they laughed so hard they had to sit down on the ground, holding their sides with the laughter. The boy on the inside kept asking for help to get out, and the madder he got, the harder the other two laughed. Pretty soon everyone on the street was laughing.

If only we had more community festivals like that one -- spreading imagination and laughter!

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