Semana Santa in Antigua

By this time, you might have eaten all of your Easter candy... but I have just experienced my first Semana Santa, Spanish for Holy Week, here in Antigua and am still in awe of this beautiful cultural and religious tradition.

Guatemala’s almost three hundred years of Spanish colonial rule spills over into the present; Catholic celebrations here are big. In Antigua, alfombras (rugs) are made of dyed sawdust, woodchips, pine needles, flowers, and even food in anticipation of the processions in which people carry large, ornate floats depicting the Passion of the Christ. Some people spend hours preparing the colorful creations that line the path of the procession in the cobblestone streets. Others make the pilgrimage from all over Guatemala to Antigua to take part in the celebration.

Selvin, an Adelante cobbler, watched his fifteen year old son help carry a float as a cucurucho on Good Friday. Cucuruchos, or Catholic bearers of the floats, dress in different colored robes depending on the day. Purple robes are used during Lent, black robes are worn after Good Friday to represent mourning, and white robes are worn to celebrate Easter Sunday. “You used to wear the black robes in the processions too,” Julio reminds his brother Selvin.

As Julio noted in a previous post, steady formal employment means that he has financial stability and a schedule. This stability is important to the Adelante mission; compensating the craftsmen above the Living Well Line is a meaningful investment for more than just monetary reasons. Establishing the Living Well Line in a given community involves members of that community. Making a Living Well wage provides the stability that allows the cobblers to enjoy time with their families during the holidays. For Gustavo, a younger craftsmen, this stability allowed him to take a day trip to the Ruins at Iximche. He also went to watch the procession led by La Iglesia de San Felipe on Good Friday.

When I asked Calixto how he spent Semana Santa, he lamented, "Our tradition is to visit five churches on Good Friday, but this year we didn’t have time to go to La Escuela de Cristo. We only made it to the La Iglesia de San Felipe, La Iglesia de La Merced, El Catedral de San Jose, and La Iglesia de San Francisco.” That’s right, they only made it to those four. He and his wife like to witness the various alfombras the churches make, and watch the ornate floats as they flow out of the churches. This year they shared this tradition with their two-month-old baby. After seeing so many babies dressed in little cucurucho robes, I asked if they dressed their son up for the processions. “No, he dressed up but not in robes” smiles Calixto. “He slept for most of it.”

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