Easter Parades in Antigua Guatemala, by Ailsa
29.03.2015 - 05.04.2015 24 °C
Welcome to Antigua! We arrived during the week before Easter, known as Semana Santa in this part of the world. These are the largest Easter celebrations outside of Rome and the largest religious celebrations in the Americas. We were told that over 1,000,000 people come to Antigua each year to see the Easter parades. At home we do Easter egg hunts and the Easter Bunny visits but it is much more about Jesus here. We had to watch some videos online to remember all the details about the Easter Story (Fraser's favourite was a Lego one). They told the Christian story of Jesus being crucified and then coming back to life a few days later.
Nearly all of the people in Guatemala are Catholic (a specific type of Christian). Easter is the most important Catholic celebration, more important than Christmas. It celebrates the death of Jesus and when he rises from the dead. The celebration in Antigua includes three major parts; the vigils, processions and alfombras (carpets).
Vigils are held in all the churches with grand alfombras (carpets) and scenes from the last days of Jesus' life, like the Last Supper. They are very detailed and display lots of statues and vegetables and fruits and are changed every day.
The Processions are parades where the local men (Cucuruchos) and women (Cargadoras) carry floats called andas. To represent the time up until Christ was put on the cross, the men men wear purple robes and white coverings on their heads while the women wear white blouses and black veils. The purple represents that they feel bad for their sins (when they did something wrong). Several other members of the procession dress as Roman soldiers to act out the story.
After 3pm on Good Friday afternoon, the parades change to show the time after Jesus died. The processions switch to wearing all black, both men and women. This represents grieving. The andas are made of wood and can weigh hundreds to thousands of pounds. They carry the religious statues from the local churches. The largest showed Jesus in a glass coffin and needed 100 carriers who switched every block. They would each take 2 or 3 turns. That parade was 10 hours long and needed over 3000 men to carry the anda! There were also bands playing a slow type of funeral music, and a lot of people spreading Frankincense so that we could hardly see through the smoke.
In front of the procession people make carpets called alfombras. They take a very long time to make and are really detailed with dyed sawdust and flowers. The carpet designers built up beams so they can walk above the patterns and fill stencils with spoonfuls of colourful sawdust one at a time. Some of the alfombras looked like real carpets. Some had pictures of animals, flowers and religious symbols. People spend hours designing these only to have the procession destroy the carpet as they walk across in a matter of minutes.
We watched a few processions until Good Friday and then helped make an alfombra with other kids in the neighbourhood. First we used wooden beams to form the outline and spread sawdust to create a level background on top of the cobble street. We also used stencils and dyed sawdust to create images for the carpet. Since there were lots of kids there was no organized design and we all just had fun spreading different colours of sawdust around. I put a special Canadian flag in one corner as a symbol of our family.
During the week we saw three different parades. One was Jesus carrying the cross, one had Christ on the cross and the most important one was Jesus' body after he had died. We made the alfombra for the last and most important procession that went right by our Casa and we climbed onto the roof to watch it pass. There was so much incense that we could barely breath!
My favourite part of Semana Santa was looking at the intricate alfombras and watching the efforts of the men and women as they swayed with the effort of carrying the huge floats. We also loved playing with the neighbourhood kids. Grandma Cable arrived the day before Good Friday to spend two weeks with us. It is so nice to spend Easter with family! Today we spent Easter Sunday going for a walk and listening to the music, church bells and fireworks of celebrations around the city. I think we will always remember this week and how much work the people of Antigua put into their amazing Easter celebrations.