Posted by: janetwright2guatemala | 05/01/2011

Celebrating Semana Santa in Guatemala

30 abril 2011- sabado  

Once upon a time there was a proud and progressive people living in a forested, tropical land with their own calendar, mathematical system and spiritual beliefs. They constructed great stone pyramids throughout the land that stretched skyward. Then came a day that foreign intruders disembarked on their beaches, and began to overpower the people’s ways…yes, there was resistance for many years against these invaders, but after considerable  time the Mayan people began adopting some of  the new ways as their own…with many converting to Catholicism. Today in Guatemala, Easter week is the most important religious holiday, although the  rapid rise in Evangelical churches is modifying the number of people who celebrate this holiday.

Last touches...

My muni (city hall) was closed for the entire week of Semana Santa (Holy Week)…although that decision was made in the waning hours of the workday on Friday. Seeking an answer whether I should report to work on the following Monday, I received “saber” (who knows?) and vague references to maybe a notice being posted…finally someone, perhaps the mayor or his city councilmen, finally decreed that we would indeed be closed for the week. Sweet! I decided to take advantage of the days off and did some exploring of neighboring towns.

Visiting with my landlady and her sister

Semana Santa in my town kicked off on Thursday, April 14th with a Catholic mass at 5pm…this same church had been relatively empty for Christmas eve, yet was now packed!  Many people had arrived from the far-flung aldeas(villages) for this all-important holiday.  A thunderstorm pounded on the church roof and extinguished the lights briefly now and then, leaving us sitting with only the light of a few candles…fortunately the gods of electricity spared us from complete darkness and lights flickered  back on. Despite the obvious difference in our physical appearance, myself and Claire, another volunteer, were welcomed into this church family.  The priest washed the feet of 12 men from the community who assumed the roles of the apostles…a humbling act. Many hymns and prayers later, the service gently ended in song and embracing of neighbors.

Alfombras en la calle

Friday, April 15th brought on the colorful designs in streets. Alfombras (literally translated as “carpet”) of flowers, pine needles, and colored sawdust and wood chips are carefully designed and placed on streets as the path for religious processions. Some families have a reserved space on the street in their city and have created alfombras for generations.  These designs are ephemeral, as is life.  Dressed in my Mayan traje, I ventured forth to witness  my town’s celebration of Good Friday. I felt the admiring eyes of many people glancing my way….appreciating my effort to respect their cultura by adopting their dress. An elderly woman asked if I would gift her my outfit when I return to the U.S., but I chuckled inward and stated that I would be keeping my outfit.  Last minute flower decorations were put in place before the procession began…one man joking that they hoped to win first prize, but then admitting there was no contest. Soon the procession of the devoted was underway, carrying a statue of Jesus laboring under a large wooden cross.

Alfombras- ephemeral beauty

In the afternoon, I introduced my pagan celebrations of baking and coloring Easter eggs with the children of my neighbors…the boys, ages 10-12 yrs old, did not even show parents their masterpieces…instead the colored eggs were quickly cracked and devoured…another sign of the ephemeral quality of this colored artwork and the appetite level of growing boys! So this Easter was a blend of cultures…Mayan, Catholic, and pagan….ah, Semana Santa is a special time in Guatemala!

Easter eggs!


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