|“Holy Week (Latin: Hebdomada Sancta or Maior Hebdomada, "Greater Week") in Christianity is the last week of Lent and the week before Easter. It commemorates the last week of the earthly life of Jesus Christ culminating in his crucifixion on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday.”- Wikipedia
Holy week is celebrated, in one form or another, throughout the Christian world. There are a couple of places, though, where this celebration has been brought to a whole new level. Arguably the most elaborate of these celebrations is held in Antigua, Guatemala, where hotel rooms are booked months in advance. For 6 Sundays preceding Semana Santa, area churches take turns hosting processions into town. The culmination of all of this is on holy Thursday night/Friday morning. Most of the town is awake throughout the night, creating elaborate Alfombras (“carpets”) made of colored sawdust, grass, flowers, fruits, vegetables, figurines and (in one case) small bags of dorito-like chips (rumor has it Jesus was a big Cheetoh fan).
Throughout the night, many stores and vendors stay open, selling food and coffee to the workers and the thousands of spectators. We chose to sleep a bit but did manage to get up around 0530 to start looking at the finished products. At about 430am, the biggest procession left La Merced church to wind its way slowly throughout the city, trampling these temporary masterpieces. Fortunately, there was no great rush, as it moves s-l-o-w-l-y to the beat of the musicians (tubas, drums, etc) beating out a somber, funereal march. This is probably for the best, as the burdened bearers of the huge floats couldn’t walk much faster anyway. The floats bear life-sized replicas of jesus and the various stages of his walk with the cross, and weigh an incredible amount, judged by the expressions of the 80 (!) men it takes to carry each one. There were numerous different processions throughout the day (and the days before and after), some with over 5000 participants.
For us, the highlight was a different procession, held the day before, called the procesion infantile (kids parade). Our host family had kindly signed Alexander up for this, and he was dressed in the typical purple flowing robes and had a chance to carry the float. Unfortunately for his fellow bearers, he was a couple of inches too small for his shoulder to reach the float, so he couldn’t really pull his load. He did his best, though, by pushing up with his hands. As always, he did stand out a bit, especially with his proud, beaming smile.
It was especially memorable seeing all these processions and floats as we were able to share them with our friends Matt and Jenny, and with Carol and Bill (Gillian’s parents). This gave us a good contrast, as Matt and Jenny (raised Catholic) could give us some history lessons, while Bill and I could share our blasphemous free-thinking views and jokes.
Semana Santa in Antigua should definitely be on your “bucket list”, as it is one of the most interesting and beautiful events in the world. For sheer cultural interest, it may even rival Carnival in Rio (though there were less tassles here).
Click through the photos to get a sense of some of these alfombras. Amazing. One of the best parts is how totally uncommercial the whole thing was. (Ok, a Catholic commercial, perhaps, but not corporate- with the one exception of an American Airlines Alfombra in front of the best hotel in town, the Hotel Santo Domingo. Leave it to the Americans to brand anything and everything)
Here is the link to the video, with some more pics..http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GhzrCi8sKAc