Semana Santa (Holy Week) has a great cultural importance in Spanish speaking countries. Semana Santa is observed with a range of celebrations, from the most solemnly religious, to a mix of pagan/Catholic, to commercial. Semana Santa celebrates the last days of Christ’s life, the Crucifixion and Resurrection, as well as the end of Lent.
Semana Santa begins on Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday) through Jueves Santo (Maundy Thursday) and Viernes Santo (Good Friday), culminating in Pascua or Domingo de Resurrección (Easter Sunday).
What Happens During Semana Santa? Each day has its rituals, like processions through the streets with participants on their knees or carrying large wooden crosses. There are masses and religious observations, prayer meetings, and thousands of devout Catholics doing homage. In many communities, the full Passion Play is enacted from the Last Supper, the Betrayal, the Judgment, the Procession of the 12 Stations of the Cross, the Crucifixion and, finally, the Resurrection. Participants are costumed and play their parts with reverence.
During this week, many schools and offices are closed. You can expect resort areas to be crowded as people take advantage of the holiday.
Some interesting Easter Traditions:
Spain – The celebration of Holy Week regarding popular piety relies almost exclusively on the processions of the brotherhoods or fraternities. These associations have their origins in the Middle Age. A common feature is the almost general usage of the nazareno or penitential robe for some of the participants in the processions. This garment consists of a tunic, a hood with conical tip (capirote) used to conceal the face of the wearer, and sometimes a cloak. The exact colors and forms of these robes depend on the particular procession. The other common feature is that every brotherhood carries magnificent “Pasos” or floats with sculptures that depict different scenes from the gospels related to the Passion of Christ or the Sorrows of Virgin Mary.
México – Some Mexican traditions for Maundy Thursday include visiting seven churches to recall the vigil the apostles kept in the garden while Jesus prayed before his arrest, and foot-washing ceremonies. On Good Friday, there are solemn religious processions in which statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary are carried through town. Often the participants of these processions dress in costumes to evoke the time of Jesus. Passion plays, dramatic recreations of the crucifixion of Christ, are presented in many communities. The largest takes place in Iztapalapa, south of Mexico City, where over a million people gather every year for the Via Crucis.
Venezuela – It’s traditional to burn an effigy of a local figure. This is known as ‘Burning of Judas’ where locals will parade the effigy through the streets before meeting together to burn it in a bonfire.
Argentina – It’s common for families to leave the city for the hillside to spend with family. After a big Easter meal, chocolate eggs are exchanged and some families with smaller children will have a chocolate egg hunt.
Almost in every Spanish speaking country, Easter Sunday is a day to enjoy with friends and family!
By Rosa Maria Chemor
LAL Spanish Teacher