Holy Week is a series of festivals that marks the biblical events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and his return from the dead.

While for many, Easter is a time to eat chocolate eggs and dress as cute bunnies, to devout Catholics it is the most important days of the year, pushing Christmas into second place.

Holy Week celebrations across the world vary, but they all retell the story of Jesus' death – known as the Passion – and involve acts of contrition by the faithful.

Spain

During Holy Week (Semana Santa) in this traditionally Catholic country, men and women (nazarenos) join brotherhoods (cofradías) which perform penance processions. These parades begin at local churches and end at cathedrals.

The penance processions are a tradition dating the Middle Ages. Although the traditional costumes of long robes and pointed hats resemble the infamous uniforms of the American white supremacist group the Klu Klux Klan (KKK), there is no connection between these groups and the KKK.

World Holy Week Celebrations 2017
Spanish legionnaires carry a statue of the Christ of Mena outside a church during a ceremony before they take part in the Mena brotherhood procession during Holy Week in Malaga, southern SpainReuters/Jon Nazca
World Holy Week Celebrations 2017
Penitents wait to start the procession of the 'Santisimo Cristo de la Paciencia' brotherhood during Holy Week in Santiago de Compostela, northern SpainReuters/Miguel Vidal
World Holy Week Celebrations 2017
Penitents of 'La Estrella' (The Star) brotherhood take part in a procession during Holy Week in the Andalusian capital of Seville, southern SpainReuters/Jesus Moron
World Holy Week Celebrations 2017
Penitents of "La Estrella" (The Star) brotherhood take part in a procession during the Holy Week in the Andalusian capital of Seville, southern SpainReuters/Jesus Moron
World Holy Week Celebrations 2017
A penitent of the Santo Cristo de la Sangre brotherhood takes part in a procession during the Holy Week in Medina Sidonia, southern SpainReuters/Susana Vera
World Holy Week Celebrations 2017
Costaleras (women who carry a float bearing the statue of Christ) of the Santo Cristo de la Sangre brotherhood pray as they get ready to take part in a procession during the Holy Week in Medina Sidonia, southern SpainReuters/Susana Vera
World Holy Week Celebrations 2017
A penitent takes part in the procession of the 'El Nazareno' brotherhood during Holy Week in Oviedo, SpainReuters/Eloy Alonso
World Holy Week Celebrations 2017
Roma people sing and dance as they take part in a procession of the Gitanos brotherhood during Holy Week in Malaga, southern SpainReuters/Jon Nazca
World Holy Week Celebrations 2017
Penitents carry a weighted structure with a statue of the Christ as they take part in the procession of the Cautivo brotherhood during Holy Week in Malaga, southern SpainReuters/Jon Nazca
World Holy Week Celebrations 2017
A woman wearing a traditional mantilla dress and penitents take part in the procession of the Gitanos brotherhood during Holy Week in Malaga, southern SpainReuters/Jon Nazca
World Holy Week Celebrations 2017
Penitents of Las Aguas (The Waters) brotherhood walk to a church before taking part in a procession during Holy Week in the Andalusian capital of Seville, southern SpainReuters/Jesus Moron
World Holy Week Celebrations 2017
A penitent of "Lagrimas and Favores" blows out candles inside a church as she takes part in a Palm Sunday procession, marking the start of the Holy Week in Malaga, southern SpainReuters/Jon Nazca
World Holy Week Celebrations 2017
A penitent takes part in the Palm Sunday procession of the 'Estudiantes' brotherhood in Oviedo, SpainReuters/Eloy Alonso
World Holy Week Celebrations 2017
A penitent of the brotherhood 'Estudiantes' dresses before the start of the Palm Sunday procession in Oviedo, SpainReuters/Eloy Alonso

El Salvadore

Although El Salvadore is officially a secular state, 60% of its population are Roman Catholic, since it was colonised by Spain in the 16th century. Holy Week in this country forms a time of public holidays.

Traditionally, there are two major processions on Good Friday – the day which marks the execution of Jesus: one is based on the Passion, and the second sees locals make 'rugs' out of coloured sawdust along streets.

World Holy Week Celebrations 2017
An actor dressed as a demon whips a resident during a ceremony known as Los Talciguines, as part of religious activities to mark the start of Holy Week in Texistepeque, El SalvadorReuters/Jose Cabezas
World Holy Week Celebrations 2017
A boy dressed as a demon participate in a mass prior to a ceremony known as Los Talciguines, as part of religious activities to mark the start of Holy Week in Texistepeque, El SalvadoReuters/Jose Cabezas
World Holy Week Celebrations 2017
A man dressed as Jesus Christ participates in a ceremony known as Los Talciguines, as part of religious activities to mark the start of Holy Week in Texistepeque, El SalvadorReuters/Jose Cabezas

Honduras

In this Central American country, Holy Week – semana santa – is again marked by celebrations and processions. On Maundy Thursday, after a special mass, Catholics march in a "Procession of Silence" from churches to a cathedral. They are led by soliders, a drummer and a man dressed as Jesus.

The following day, Good Friday, another procession is traditionally held by youth groups. This time, one young man carries a cross through their city to retell the Passion – the 12 events that retell Jesus' trial, torture and execution.

On Easter Sunday, two processions begin at 6am, in the Procession of the Resurrection. Local women carry a statue portraying Mary, Jesus' mother, and men carry one portraying Jesus after he returns to life. The parades begin in opposite sides of their towns and meet in the middle.

World Holy Week Celebrations 2017
A child portraying Jesus Christ takes part in a re-enactment of the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) for Catholic children in Tegucigalpa, HondurasReuters/Jorge Cabrera
World Holy Week Celebrations 2017
A child portraying Jesus Christ carries a wooden cross during a re-enactment of the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) for Catholic children in Tegucigalpa, HondurasReuters/Jorge Cabrera
World Holy Week Celebrations 2017
Catholics take part in a procession during Palm Sunday celebration in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.Reuters/Jorge Cabrera
World Holy Week Celebrations 2017
Catholics take part in a procession during Palm Sunday celebration in Tegucigalpa, HondurasReuters/Jorge Cabrera

Malta and Mosul

In Malta, sombre processions are held on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and many faithful take part in the "seven visits" – attending seven churches on the same day. The mood changes on Easter Sunday, when more parades are held, but this time in a festive atmosphere, to mark Jesus' return to life.

In Iraq's city of Mosul, April 2017 marked the first time Christians could celebrate Easter since 2014. In June of that year, Isis took control over the city, forcing the residents to follow its perverted and corrupted version of Islamic law.

World Holy Week Celebrations 2017
An actor portrays the crucified Jesus Christ during the interactive street-theatre Passion play 'Il-Mixja' (The Way), one of a series of Holy Week activities in the run-up to Easter, in the grounds of Verdala Palace outside Rabat, MaltaReuters/Darrin Zammit Lupi
World Holy Week Celebrations 2017
Iraqis attend the first Palm Sunday procession in the burnt out main church of the Christian city of Qaraqosh since Iraqi forces retook it from Isis militants.Reuters/Suhaib Salem