About This Festival
You don’t have to be religious to experience Semana Santa. The Holy Week leading up to Easter casts a violet-colored veil over Antigua, Guatemala, celebrating the transformation, Passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. From the elaborately made carpets to the float processions, Semana Santa will make a believer out of you, even if it’s only in the magic of festivals.
Semanta Santa - A Religious Experience
Semana Santa celebrations take place annually the week before Easter, the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The festival typically commences on Palm Sunday, one week before Easter, and goes through the week until Good Friday, when devotees remember the Passion of Christ, the suffering Jesus endured on the cross and the solemn anniversary of his death. Most Holy Weeks end on Holy Saturday, a day of vigil in anticipation of the resurrection.
Semana Santa celebrations are predominantly Catholic and celebrated in Latin countries that almost exclusively identify with this religion. In Guatemala, there are many fusions between local beliefs, the Mayans and Catholicism, and the farther you travel into the mountains, the more you’ll see the mix. Outside of Guatemala there are several big Semana Santa celebrations. Perhaps the most famous is in Trapani, Italy, where The Procession of the Mysteries of Trapani is one the oldest-running religious ceremonies of Europe. This reenactment of the Passion of Christ uses large wooden floats and can go on for more than 16 hours. In Spain, Sevillehas the most memorable celebration with purple-robed penitents carrying life-sized plaster sculptures through the streets. Cuzco, Peru is another hot spot.
Magic Carpets & More at Holy Week
The three main activities of Antigua’s Semana Santa are the processions of floats and horses (procesiones), carpet-making (alfombras), and candlelight vigils (vigilias). The theme of the processions is The Passion, or the last days of Jesus’ life. Floats depicting Christ carrying the cross are carried by hundreds of purple-robed men called cucuruchos. The purple represents penitence, and the entire procession is a symbol of collective sorrow for their sins. Many wear pointy purple hats with two small eyeholes, a strange yet iconic image of the celebration.
The parade route is marked by ornate carpets created exclusively for Semana Santa. These elaborate carpets are part of a tradition that dates back to the colonial occupation of Guatemala. Some of the designers have been creating Holy Week carpets for decades and come from several generations’ worth of artists. Carpets are made weeks, even months in advance and consist of flowers, pines, fruits, and sawdust dyed in a rainbow of colors including purple, green, blue, red, yellow, and black. Bougainvillea, chrysanthemums, roses, and local pine needles are woven into designs. Carpets run up to 20 meters long and either adorn the processional route or are used for church vigils.
Church vigils are the most solemn events of Semana Santa and usually depict a Passion scene; people come and pay silent respects throughout the day. At the foot of the altars or tableaus, you’ll notice one of the aforementioned carpets as well as numerous offerings left by patrons including flowers, fruits and candles. Come in the morning for a more peaceful and reverent experience.
The overall vibe of Holy Week is welcoming and inclusive, and as with any cultural expression, your respectful and unobtrusive presence will grant you access and good graces from the locals.