San Jose & the Passion

For four days every year, right before Easter, the tiny Spanish fishing village in the horseshoe-shaped bay where we live turns into Coney Island. Lights are strung between the palms and massive trucks that could never navigate the old streets park themselves on the otherwise deserted beach and undertake the impossible. In a melee of banging and grunting, bumper and train cars, carrousel horses and swan boats, Mickey Mouse marquees and ticket booths are unpacked and assembled to create the illusion of an amusement park that’s always been here.


For four days before the church decrees that we turn our hearts and minds to the stations of the cross, we avidly celebrate San Jose, patron saint of La Herradura. We fix our eyes on flashing lights and wrap our lips around plastic cups stuffed with crushed ice and mint mojitos, shouting to each other above the din of club hits and whirring rides that lasts roughly from one in the afternoon to five in the morning. Women you’re used to seeing in active wear and Reeboks suddenly emerge in their flamenco finest, sashaying down the street all polka dotted, tassled and red lipsticked. Faux flowers perch at exaggerated angles like watchful third eyes on their crowns. Carnies with megaphones goad their airborne teenage patrons on, who shriek their delight in return, their joyous noise amplified by the Mediterranean.

Then, just like that, it’s over. Carnies perform the annual miracle of making bumper cars, merry-go-rounds, mechanical bulls and bouncy castles disappear. The palms are freed to sway again. Villagers return the polka dots and frills to their closets and don more relaxed attire. Church bells toll, constantly it seems. So we arrange to meet for drinks and tapas to watch the procession of pointy hats and enormous floats carrying the likeness of Jesus and Mary in various stages of suffering, while I silently pray my 6-year old doesn’t ask too many questions.

In Andalusia, children are left out of nothing. They are permitted in bars, can be found in plazas until the wee hours on weekends and summer nights, and on special occasions outfitted in tiny replicas of their parents’ finery, high heels and all. It goes without saying that they would have an Easter procession of their own. Be allowed to bear the weight of Christian duty in the form of miniaturized floats and let the passion of Christ fill their tiny hearts. We watch them emerge onto the roped-off main road and descend slowly down to the plaza, green sashes swaying almost in unison, faces appropriately sombre. White-haired women throw fistfuls of flower petals from their balconies. A brass marching band brings up the rear.

Then on Easter Monday, saints young and old return to their roles as common villagers. Christ has risen, hallelujah! Children can return to school. The plaza and sweet shop revert back to being the main attractions. The ladies tone down the makeup (just slightly). And, just like that, the spectacle is over.

story and image © Elizabeth Adams