Semana Santa in Xela

Semana Santa is Holy Week, the week before Easter Sunday, and is probably the biggest holiday in Guatemala – a largely Catholic country. There are a myriad of processions, traditions and foods to enjoy. The majority of the celebrations are on Thursday, Good Friday and Saturday. Processions and throngs of people cram the streets on these days, which are public holidays. So, we joined the crowds to view the solemn goings on.

The processions are the biggest draw, each Catholic church has at least one or more taking place at different times during the day. Men (cucurachos) and women (dolorosas) participate in carrying huge wooden floats bearing effigies of Christ or the Virgin, sometimes for up to ten or more hours! In Antigua (where the celebrations are biggest) the largest float is 3.5 tonnes and needs 80 men to lift it! Until Friday afternoon, men are dressed in robes of purple. After the crucifixion ceremony at noon on Good Friday, they change their outfit to black. Throughout the day, women keep their heads covered with scarves. The processions start early and finish late -after midnight in some cases.

Many people lay intricately decorated carpets (alfombras) outside their houses for the procession to pass over. It´s thought that the alfombras are a form of welcoming Jesus into the town, much like people did with palm leaves in biblical times. They are amazing – long, intricate ‘carpets’ made from coloured sawdust, flowers and branches. When the procession passes over the carpets are ruined and swept away to be recreated next year. People get up very early in the morning to make sure their alfombras are ready for the procession to pass over. Creating the alfombras is a very serious affair, involving young and old – a joy to watch, even in the rain!

Thursday - the children's procession

8am, Good Friday

Putting the finishing touches to the alfombras

With our host Maria-Teresa and her friend Aure

Christ emerges from the cathedral

Psychedelic alfombra!

Watering the sawdust to keep the alfombras from blowing away

A full brass band follows the procession playing somber marching music - nonstop!

The ladies...

...and the Virgin

More ladies: from left - Charlotte, Cheryl, Maria-Teresa, Aure

Fidgeting in the procession!

The incense swingers

4.30pm - Preparing for the evening procession in the rain

Aure's alfombra

Maria-Teresa looking glam with her umbrella

Cheryl and Ned remaining positive despite the downpour

Getting soaked through, the guys are wearing black now to represent mourning for the death of Christ

Over the alfombra

Mind the cables!

The alfombra after the procession

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2 Responses to Semana Santa in Xela

  1. Linda Steel says:

    What a lovely colourful and detailed blog Charlotte. Have felt sad at some of your observations on poverty and womens issues from Guatemala but seeing this everyone is obviously really proud to play their part; puts our easter celebrations of mainly an overindulgence of lamb and chocolate in a very poor light. Though we have no church to process from or to we have shared time and vittals with friends and have listened to and reflected upon the Easter message and music you have oboe played oft times.
    Love the amazing alfombras and hope you have learned the technique – would look lovely in the garden or for special celebrations for people . I will start saving sawdust!!
    Take care on next leg of your journey.
    All love Mum xxxx

  2. June Hurst & John Daley says:

    Hi Charlotte and Ned,
    WOW what a fantastic blog and pictures on Semana in Xela. You portrayed the atmosphere of the Easter celebrations superbly. How wonderful it must have been to witness it and be amongst the processions of people and brass band music. At Easter in the future I will remember you and the sawdust carpets, and 80 men carrying the three and a half ton platform with Jesus carrying his Cross.- An image I will treasure forever. Thankyou.
    We send our Love and look forward to all your adventures on Cropcycle. Take care
    From Nanna and John XXXXXXX

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