Semana Santa en Antigua

procession

Easter came and went for us this year without pink bunnies, egg hunts or baskets of candy.  Instead, we spent the holiday taking in the stunning Semana Santa, or Holy Week, celebrations in Antigua, Guatemala.  Made up of a series of candle light vigils and processions through the streets of town, Antigua’s celebration of Semana Santa is one of the largest in all of Central America and draws thousands of visitors from all over the world.

incenseBeginning during the weekends leading up to Holy Week, elaborate processions make their way around town led by young boys swinging incense burners as clouds of the thick smoke fill the air.  Groups of as many as 80 or 100 men adorned in purple robes carry platforms with the images of Jesus on their shoulders as they walk over beautiful alfombras that carpet the cobblestone streets.  Women carry slightly smaller platforms with the image of Mary.  Marching bands playing funeral music follow behind.   

The platforms or loads carried by the men can weigh as much as 5000 orcarriers 6000 pounds and the women’s slightly less.  Though they switch groups of carriers every block, you can still see the strained looks on their faces and imagine the challenge of carrying so much weight.  Though for many, if not all, it’s an honor to be part of the processions and even more so to carry the images.  This is especially apparent when you see the parents who take their turn carrying the platforms while holding their young child in the other arm.

The longest and most elaborate day of celebrations takes place on Good Friday.  It’s a long day with the first procession departing La Merced church around 3 a.m. and the final procession coming to an end around 4:30 a.m.alfombra the following morning.  People from outlying towns as well as tourists from neighboring El Salvador, Honduras and many other international locations crowd the streets camping out in the Central Park and sleeping outside churches.  For many it’s a night without sleep as people stay up  creating colorful alfombras from dyed sawdust or simply wandering the streets marveling at the creations of others before the processions come through and the works of art are destroyed.  We were up along with everyone else at 3 a.m. and we made it until about 1 a.m the following morning when we finally decided to call it a night. 

re-enactmentThat same day at noon a re-enactment of the crucifixion is staged in the Parque Central.  Then at 3 p.m. the thousands of people taking part in the processions change from purple to black robes and the processions become even more like funeral processions.  At any given time throughout the day these processions, which typically last for 12 hours, could be seen weaving up and down the narrow streets, strategically navigating corners while crowds of people follow behind carrying flowers and praying.  The festivities come to an end on Easter Sunday when one final procession makes it’s way through the streets accompanied by firecrackers. 

Semana Santa in Antigua definitely makes it to the top of our list of best festivals and events.  It’s a must see! 

roma

And most importantly, everyone has a great time!

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