Guatemala, Easter and Holy Week in

Guatemala, Easter and Holy Week in

The city of Antigua hosts what some consider to be Guatemala's most impressive Holy Week observances. These observances revolve around a series of religious processions in which sacred statues are placed on platforms and carried through city streets on the shoulders of strong men. The processions begin during Lent, but intensify as Holy Week approaches.

The parades begin at eight in the morning and sometimes last all day. Bands of volunteers line the parade routes with alfombras, or "carpets," made from colored sawdust, sand, and flower petals. Some of these "carpets" are quite large, up to fifty feet in length. Whole families participate in their creation, the planning of which begins months in advance. Businesses and trade guilds may also create carpets. Once the design is selected, stencils are made and colors chosen. On the evening before the procession those responsible for the carpet may work through the night out on the street to complete their carpet. Many view their long hours of labor as an expression of their devotion to Jesus, or the saint whose image will pass over the carpet, or to God. Those who carry the heavy floats also consider their act an expression of religious devotion. Some are completing religious vows given in exchange for a favor or the forgiveness of sins. So many people want to help carry the floats that some processions stop every few blocks so new bearers can replace those who have already taken a turn.

Perhaps the most magnificent parade takes place on Good Friday. It features a life-sized statue of Jesus carrying his cross. The bearers begin the procession wearing purple robes. At three in the afternoon, the hour of Jesus' death, they change to black robes. Men dressed as Roman soldiers, some on foot, some on horseback, accompany the float. Those who accompany the procession are careful not to tread on the alfombras. Only those bearing the sacred images may step on them. Their passing destroys the fragile carpets, adding to the drama of the procession.

On the evening of Good Friday another religious procession centered on an image of Christ prepared for burial moves through the city streets. Incense-bearers and drummers accompany this solemn procession.

On Holy Saturday women with black lace draped over their heads serve as float bearers. Later that evening crowds of tourists and locals jam into the town's cathedral and the plaza in front of it for a candlelight service (see also Easter Vigil).

The final processions take place on Easter Sunday. The bearers wear white, symbolizing joy. Firecrackers explode as the celebrations draw to a close.

Further Reading

Evans, Larry L. "To Soften the Path: Sawdust Carpets in Guatemala's Easter Celebrations." The World and I 10, 4 (April 1995): 240. Lord, Priscilla Sawyer, and Daniel J. Foley. Easter the World Over. Philadelphia, PA: Chilton Book Company, 1971. Milne, Jean. Fiesta Time in Latin America. Los Angeles, CA: Ward Richie Press, 1965.

Web Sites

"La Semana Santa in Guatemala," an article about Holy Week observances in Guatemala by Tony Pasinski, posted by Revue magazine, a publication designed for Guatemala's resident English speakers at: . com/articles/1999/mar/semana.htm

"Easter in Antigua," a newspaper article by Claudia R. Capos, published by the Buffalo News, available online for a fee through Northern Light at: . Document ID: BM19980409010036523
Encyclopedia of Easter, Carnival, and Lent, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2002