Parades, costumes, marching bands, floats … Semana Santa has it all.
Men carry floats with large figures representing scenes from the events between Jesus’ arrest and his burial, or statues of the Madonna weeping for her son. The processions are often led by marching bands and involve people dressed in the garb of medieval penitents.
Semana Santa (Holy Week) starts on Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter) and continues until Easter. In Spain, it’s biggest in Sevilla, Málaga, Zamora and León, but at least in the south of Spain, even the smallest villages celebrate it.
Being on the Camino de Santiago (or at least, in my experience, the Vía de la Plata) during Semana Santa is a wonderful experience in a lot of ways. You have an opportunity to experience the processions in small towns as well as larger cities.
Churches are often open at all hours, as groups of people arrange the statues on floats and make other preparations for the processions. They tend not to be quiet places of prayer, though, as preparations can be quite noisy.
Some tourist attractions have extended hours or reduced prices during Semana Santa. When I was in Mérida, major sites were open during the siesta and at least one museum had free admission because of Semana Santa.
The downside is that pilgrimage routes seem to get busier during Semana Santa, since many Spaniards and some Europeans get a holiday then. I’ve heard that accommodation in larger cities can be harder to find, and of course more pilgrims means pilgrim albergues are more crowded as well.
If you find yourself in a Spanish town during Semana Santa, keep an eye out for posters listing the parades. In bigger cities, tourist information offices may carry brochures.
There may be multiple processions each night in a city, while small towns may only have a couple of processions spread out over the week.