Guatemala: The Colorful Sights of Holy Week

Holy Week, which is celebrated the week before Easter, is an eagerly anticipated time in Guatemala. With colorful religious traditions and the abundance of typical foods, these days showcase the best that the country has to offer. Local bloggers have been experiencing the sights, sounds, and smells of Holy Week in Guatemala.

Bradelectro of the blog New Maya summarizes what Holy Week is all about:

If you’re anywhere in Latin America today then you know we’re right smack in the middle of Semana Santa, or Holy Week, and it’s like Christmas + Hanukkah x 10, for a whole week! Guatemala is a predominantly Catholic country and this being a major Catholic holiday, well, the stores are closed, kids are off from school and everyone’s out in the streets watching the processions with their families until it all ends on Sunday. Processions are massive parades with floats carved out of wood depicting Biblical allegories. They are dramatic, colorful, smell like a million simultaneously burning incense sticks and sound like booming off-key parade music.

Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday, and in the city of Cobán, located in central Guatemala, Nelson Benjamin Pérez describes the main activities that took place, which included the making of the traditional carpets in honor of the statue of Jesus, which is called Nazareno Antiguo (Antique Nazarene) [es]:

Con una gran fiesta de alfombras se le rindió tributo al Nazareno Antiguo, un día hermoso en el que cientos de familias se dedicaron el día entero para realizar bellas alfombras. Felicitaciones a todas las familias de la zona 4 que se han esmerado por muchos años en la elaboración de bellas y coloridas alfombras. El presidente Alejandro Evaristo Cacao, del comité de la elaboración de alfombras, manifestó que son unas 90 familias que participan en la elaboración de más de 2,000 metros de alfombras, invierten aproximadamente unos 8 mil quetzales e inician unos tres meses antes, todo para rendir tributo al Nazareno Antiguo.

A great feast of carpets, which was a tribute to the Nazareno Antiguo, took place on a beautiful day where hundreds of families spent the entire day making these beautiful carpets. Congratulations to all of the families of Zone 4, who have taken great care in making these beautiful and colorful carpets for many years. The president of the carpet-making committee, Alejandro Evaristo Cacao, stated that approximately 90 families took part in the making of 2,000 meters of carpets, spending approximately 8,000 quetzales (Guatemalan currency, and approximately US$1,000), beginning three months earlier, all for paying homage to Nazareno Antiguo.
Setting the Red Carpet. Photo by Rudy Girón and used under a Creative Commons license.

Setting the Red Carpet. Photo by Rudy Girón and used under a Creative Commons license.

Rudy Girón of the Antigua Daily Photo blog also writes about this tradition of colorful carpet making, which is also prominent in the city of Antigua:

The making of carpets from sawdust, pine-needles, flowers, vegetables is a community-forming tradition. People get together by block or near-by neighbors to create the carpets on which the processions will pass by. Sometimes the making of the carpets is done at night, all night so they are ready for next day’s procession. The colorful processional carpet elaboration process involves the whole family, close friends, the neighborhood and the entire community.

Photo of procession by Kara Andrade. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Photo of procession by Kara Andrade. Used under a Creative Commons license.

The Guatemalan city of Antigua is often considered the center of Holy Week festivities, which features the processions, one of the highlights of Lent. Many visitors especially come to see the processions during Holy Week. Guatemalan blogger Kara Andrade of the blog New Maya writes about her visit to Antigua on Good Friday to catch a glimpse of one of the typical processions.

On my tip-toes, I saw the bus-long float carrying a red-robed Christ and his wooden cross surrounded by dozens of orchids and flowers hoisted on the shoulders of at least a hundred purple-clothed men. There was clouds of incense and the prayers by the priests were almost sung in rhythm. I could not make the words out, but I knew the journey well, I’d grown up with it as a Catholic. We were embarking upon The Passion of Christ—all the events and suffering of Jesus in the hours before and including his trial and execution by crucifixion. (…) We were surrounded by thousands witnessing the procession and as it made its way towards Alameda Santa Lucía, we marched with it, flanked on our left by believers paying their respect, making the cross along their forehead and across their chests. Small candles were lit one by one and then the dark pierced their multitude like pearls or fireflies along the path. We all moved as one unit..

Food also takes center stage during Holy Week. Luis Figueroa of the blog Carpe Diem [es] posts a photo slide show of the different foods available during Holy Week. He lists the wide variety of traditional foods that can be found, as well as the not-so-traditional foods that make an appearance during this time, such as pizza served from carts and cappuccino coffees.

However, Holy Week is much more than processions and food, notes Girón, who posts photographs of a traditional play depicting the Passion of Christ.

For many Guatemalans and visitors, Holy Week is a special time to honor their Catholic traditions, and when Holy Week ends with the celebration of Easter on April 4, 2010, they can begin looking forward to next year's festivities.

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