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!