Travel Magazine

Celebrations Around the World – Semana Santa

By Frontiergap @FrontierGap

Continuing our theme of celebrations from around the world, today we look at the fascinating traditions that occur in the week leading up to Easter. Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is commemorated by Christians globally, but the celebrations in Latin America and Spain assume a special vibrancy. The majority of the week is declared as a national holiday, and people flock to towns and cities to celebrate in the streets throughout day and night.


Semana Santa is traditionally a religious observation which re-enacts the last days of Jesus’ life, from his entrance into Jerusalem to his death and resurrection. Communities in Latin America are generally very religious, with families attending church up to several times a week. Their attitude during Semana Santa reflects these strong beliefs: most processions are dramatically solemn, with participants playing their roles with reverence. Today Semana Santa has expanded commercially and become a time for celebration: families reunite and tourists flock to towns and cities to observe the fascinating processions. There are many spectacles unique to certain regions; for example, in Guatemala, artwork is created on the streets using coloured sand, dried flowers and grass.


Each community has its unique rituals and families commemorate Semana Santa to varying degrees. The schedule of the celebrations are followed in the same manner each year and correspond to certain events in the Christian calendar:
Day One – Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday):
In remembrance of Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem, a blessing ceremony of palm leaves imitates the palm leaves laid on the ground in front of Jesus’ donkey.
Days Two to Four – Holy Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday:
Gospels are read, mainly recounting events which occurred between Jesus’ entrance to Jerusalem and his Last Supper.
Day Five – Jueves Santo (Maundy Thursday):
Private celebration of Mass is forbidden; the church holds Mass of the Lord’s Supper in the evening to commemorate Jesus’ Last Supper with his 12 disciples. Sometimes the Priest washes the feet of 12 men in imitation of Christ washing the feet of his apostles. Following the mass all the church bells are rung, the altars are stripped bare and the crosses are either removed or covered. The day culminates in an atmospheric night-time procession, complete with flaming torches, beating drums and lamenting songs.


Day Six – Viernes Santo (Good Friday):
Most devout Christians observe a fast on this day, eating only one small meal. A sombre attitude is adopted: churches give an afternoon service of readings and singing, and some churches participate in three hours of meditation known as the Three Hours’ Agony. The processions are the most dramatic and melancholy of Semana Santa: in Antigua, Guatemala, the participants swap the purple outfits they have been wearing throughout the week and dress head to toe in black. The floats they carry bear graphic statues of Jesus in a coffin and the Virgin Mary lamenting the death of her son.

Day Seven – Holy Saturday:
The laments of the previous day pervade into Saturday. A lamp or candle in the church symbolising the presence of Christ is extinguished, and the Easter Vigil Mass can last three or four hours.
Day Eight – Pascua, Domingo de Resurrección (Easter Sunday):
The celebration of Easter begins after sundown on the Saturday. This is a great feast day in which the resurrection of Christ and the end of Lent is celebrated. Christians see this day as not only the culmination of Semana Santa, but the most important day of the entire year: Easter Sunday is the reason Sunday is traditionally a religious day.

By Denise Bartlett

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