Semana Santa in Guatemala (Holy Week) is one of the most important celebrations of the year in this tiny country. Although it’s predominantly a celebration for Catholics travelers of all religions and beliefs can experience thisgreat opportunity to see art in a very particular way.
This tradition was brought to America during the Spanish conquest. It is meant to represent the passion of Jesus Christ by taking beautifully crafted images of Jesus and Mary out on processions. It is the most important and busiest week in the country and the best time to visit Antigua.
Antigua is a small city that looks as if time stood still for the last two hundred years. It was once the Capital of Central America and is now a must-visit for travelers from around the world. This place comes alive with smells, colors, food, music and processions during holy week.
Actually the celebrations start 40 days before the day when the resurrection of Jesus is celebrated. This period is called lent. Each of the Fridays, there will be an altar in different churches (Velaciones) and on Sundays there will be a procession, each representing a different passage of the bible.
Also make sure to check out the carpets. They are made with sawdust of bright colors and intricate designs, and others are made of flowers bringing about beautiful combinations. They take hours and lots of work, and get destructed in seconds as the procession passes by. These are just some of the best things to do in Antigua during this season.
Here is the Itinerary of Activities of Lent and Semana Santa in Guatemala:
1. It all starts on Palm Sunday – Everywhere you look you’ll find beautiful bouquets of palms and flowers. Then during the afternoon there is a procession from the famous La Merced Church.
2. Monday – Go for a visit to La Merced church again. There will be a huge exposition of an image on the altar – each year is different. You can also find tons of food stands outside the church.
3. Tuesday – Visit San Francisco church, you will find another of these artistic representations featuring an image of Christ carrying a cross. As I mentioned before, they are all completely different.
4. Wednesday – This is a busy day! First there is a procession from one of the nearby towns. They are floating pieces of art. Then visit Escuela de Cristo Church. You will have another velacion, but this time the image being featured is the one of the dead Christ.
5. Thursday – You get two different processions. Try to catch them as they go through the cathedral. They do a short dramatization in colorful outfits and even horses, with the full moon as the background.
6. Friday – This is the busiest day of the whole week and where you see the largest processions. Thousands of people come to Antigua to see or carry on their shoulders one of the four processions. One leaves La Merced church at 6am. At 3pm the city changes from purple to black. This is when three more processions leave the Cathedral, Escuela de Cristo and San Felipe. This time they all represent the dead Christ, they are huge and solemn.
Locals don’t sleep the night of Thursday, they spend the night looking at Thursday’s processions, partying or manufacturing carpets for Friday’s processions. Then spend the whole day walking, eating and chasing the processions. This is when the best carpets are made so it is a good idea to start the day walking the streets at 5am looking at the finished carpets, just 30min before the morning procession destroys them.
7. Saturday – During the afternoon you will find two more processions on the streets of Antigua, this time featuring only the images of Virgin Mary wearing black, representing her loneliness after Jesus Christ died.
8. Sunday – It all ends with a modest yet popular procession announcing the resurrection has happened. This is a day of celebration among Catholics.
Semana Santa Food
There are tons and tons of restaurants in Antigua. But during this time of the year many little parks around town have food stands. I know this might look scary, sometimes, but it is worth giving this food a chance. It is all part of the experience! All you have to do is choose carefully the stand you buy from.
What to Avoid
During this week you will find people on the streets all night, especially close to the churches opened for a velacion. Antigua is also a pretty safe place, but avoid streets if it is too late. Also avoid the areas close to the market, and the ones on the outer edges of Antigua. It can be dangerous, since thieves go crazy during this season.
If you are planning a vacation in Guatemala, this is the season you want to be in. The weather is warm, it doesn’t rain, and you get to experience one of the main aspects of the culture of locals.
NOTE: Semana Santa 2013 starts on the 24th of March.