Antigua Rolls Out the Carpet for Visitors During Holy Week
Introduced by the Spanish in the 16th century, the Andalusian rooted procession celebrating Easter is the largest in the world in Antigua, Guatemala. The entire city of Antigua participates in the Easter Festival (Semana Santa) Holy Week events, while thousands of travelers come to share in the experience.
The events begin on Palm Sunday with floats weighing several tons, carried by up to 100 cucuruchas who parade down the streets. The cucuruchas dress in traditional Mayan grab and carry the floats, which depict images of Jesus of Nazareth and the Holy Virgin, recreating Jesus’ entrance into the city of Jerusalem. The week following is celebrated by many similar events with food, and games, and evening funeral bands playing outside of the churches to complete the days’ festivities.
Good Friday is unmistakable, with black crepe paper lining the buildings and strung through the trees of Antigua. The town’s people are dressed in black and burn incense for the day’s procession event. Leading the procession, a man bearing a crucifix is followed by banners reading Jesus’ last words and mourners praying and crying. At 11pm on Good Friday the image of Jesus Christ is laid to rest in the church.
Smaller floats carried by women in their best dress and high heels line the streets on Holy Saturday. These floats represent the Virgin Mary and lead to the joyous events of Easter Sunday. Easter Sunday represents the exultant resurrection of Christ with fireworks emanating throughout the city.
Although Holy Week stems from a very religious background, one does not have to be a Catholic to appreciate the excitement and energy of Antigua’s celebrations. A very unique element of Antigua’s celebrations, and perhaps a crucial part of Antigua’s popularity for Holy Week is the Mayan component and the fusion of these distinct cultures. Antigua offers to the world an impressive facet to the Easter celebrations, their alfombras. Alfombra means carpet in Arabic.
Antigua residents begin work, sometimes months in advance, for the Holy Week alfombras. These intricately designed carpets are created from sand, colored sawdust, flowers and plants to be given as a sacrificial offering. First, sand is spread across Antigua’s famous cobblestone streets to level the roads, the colored sawdust and decorative flowers and plants are then placed to create vivid scenes from nature, Mayan tradition, and biblical events.
As Antigua rolls out the carpet for the Holy Week processions, visitors can enjoy the vivid colors and aromas throughout the streets of Antigua, while street vendors offer traditional foods and beautiful flowers for sale. When the procession come down the streets the carpets are destroyed and visitors will need to wait until the next year to enjoy this unique tradition again. This year Holy Week will be enjoyed April 9th through the 15th.