Sunday, 5 April 2009

Palm Sunday in Vigo

Domingo de Ramos - Palm Sunday - began with coolish sunshine on our street but by the time we ventured out properly just after midday it had warmed up nicely. The start of Semana Santa and things were going on, so we followed people carrying palms and, as we got closer, the thump of the drums.

Earlier in th
e day, trawling the net for information about times and routes of processions, I came across articles in La Voz de Galicia and Atlantico in which a certain Angel Dorrego had some interesting things to say about Vigo and the Easter processions. The aptly named co-ordinator of the Semana Santa celebrations in Vigo expressed his concern that the traditions were falling away because only 5% of the population regularly go to mass on a Sunday.

However, plenty of people had turned out for the bendicion de las palmas at Puerta del Sol. It did cross my mind that blessing palms sold for profit on Principe and in El Corte Ingles might perhaps amount to giving a blessing to commerce. Didn't Jesus throw the moneylenders out of the temple? I thought back to the more modest events in the Church of England sundayschool of my childhood where all the children were given a small palm frond to take home. But then, those too must have been bought and sold as part of a commercial enterprise. It seems you can't win!

Back to Vigo. Today's procession was La Entrada de la Borriquilla. Christ on his little donkey was greeted by children of all ages (and plenty of adults) waving palm fronds.

Even though there were plenty of children in evidence, according to Angel Dorrego, los padres no les pasan la devocion a sus hijos - parents are not passing on the tradition of devotion to their children. And so there are not enough cofrades - the people who accompany the statues in the processions. There are also insufficient costaleros - those who carry the statues through the streets. In the 30s these were fishermen or sailors, of which there were plenty in Vigo, but now there are fewer and Angel put out an appeal for volunteers in mid-March. All willing hands would be welcomed.

Although traditions are apparently still very strong in the Teis and Bouzas districts of the city and across the bay in Cangas, Angel Dorrego says that central Vigo needs to rebuild the tradition. Now, that difference seems to me to be very understandable. Less central districts probably have a more stable population with several generations of families living there and with the networks that result from that, including membership of cofradias. The city centre, on the other hand, has a more transient population and rather less social cohesion.

Be that as it may, a healthy enough procession made its way along Principe with hooded penitentes, drums and the inevitable band.

Angel Borrego had warned people
not to confuse Semana Santa with Spring Holidays, reminding me of certain theories that one of the reasons for Easter being where it is in the calendar was that as Christianity spread its various festivals were made more acceptable to the newly converted by timing them to replace older pagan celebrations. Certainly the presence of clowns selling dinosaur balloons and the children who sported palms in one hand and Hello Kitty in the other suggested a more secular side to the day.

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