This year I got to spend Semana Santa (translation: holy week, or the week leading up to Easter) in Granada in the South of Spain. Granada’s celebrations don’t have quite the reputation of nearby Sevilla or Malaga, but the crowds out on the streets every day were overwhelming nonetheless.
A lot of tourists, particularly Americans, aren’t keen on the processions, because they associate the costumes with Ku Klux Klan. However this tradition predates the KKK; it started long before a few racists in the Southern USA decided to hijack their dress sense. The odd cone-shaped hat (called a Capirote) symbolizes a rising toward the heavens, seeking forgiveness for sins. It is a representation of atonement.
I don’t know what it symbolizes for KKK: anonymity maybe, or an emphasis on the colour white, or just a scary costume to frighten people with? Whatever, really there is no connection.
Anyway these parades go on all week, day and night. It wasn’t unusual for them to march past at 1 or 2 AM. Each day there are a number of different processions, with different colour costumes and floats commonly depicting Christ and/or Mary. It is considered a great honour to be selected to carry a float in the parade. The floats are heavy and the men who carry them suffer a fair bit of pain in return for the honour.
Although Spain is a Catholic country, and it might seem from the processions that this faith plays an important role in their lives, in fact in modern Spain it often has more to do with spending quality ‘family time’ together, rather than having any real religious significance, particularly for younger people.