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Monday, March 31, 2014

Easter Around the World: Guatemala

As Easter is approaching, I started wondering how it was celebrated differently throughout the world. I know every church seems to have its own way of doing it as well as every family, but I wondered what traditions were out there. I have close friends who are Greek Americans and gone through many Easter seasons with them. At some point I will share some of their traditions.

The first thing I discovered is that the different celebrations seem to also incorporate Holy Week. Holy Week is the week starting with Palm Sunday (one week before Easter) until Easter. The special days differ a bit but the major ones include Palm Sunday (the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem), Good Friday (the day Jesus died), and Easter Sunday (the day Jesus rose from death).


Flag of Guatemala
Today we are focusing on Easter and Holy Week in Guatemala. Guatemala is a country in Central America. It borders Mexico, El Salvador, Bolivia and Honduras as well as the  Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea. Guatemala has had many different types of government including Mayan rule. It also had a Civil War being fought from 1960 to 1996. Since the Civil War it has had economic growth and elected a new president in 2011. Nearly all of its residents are Christian with only 1% following the indigenous Mayan faith. During Colonial times Roman Catholic was the official religion, but in recent years Protestant religions have been popular with nearly one third of residents being Protestant. (Source)


Source

The first thing that peaked my interest in Easter in Guatemala was a book we found at the library called Sawdust Carpets by Amelia Lau Carling. The book is written by a Chinese woman who grew up in Guatemala. One of her fondest childhood memories was the sawdust carpets or Alfombras de Acerrin made for the parades re-enacting Holy Week or the procesiones. The most famous of these occur in Antigua, Guatemala. The author remembers a trip to visit her aunt, uncle and cousins that lived in Antigua one Semana Santa (Holy Week). In the story she describes seeing the neighbors making the beautiful colorful sawdust carpets and even helping a neighbor with one. The neighbor gives the leftover materials to the children so they can make their own. They design and make one just as the procession is beginning. The young narrator tries to stand in the way of the procession so their special carpet will not be ruined. The neighbor steps in to explain how each carpet is an offering to life. They then watch the procession and see the different floats with statues portraying the story of Holy Week. There are bands who follow each float playing music to set the mood of the float. Overall the day is exciting and sad all rolled into one which seems like a wonderful description of Holy Week to me.


Corpus Christi alfombras 9
Source: By Municipio de Patzún (Municipalidad de Patzún)
 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

We also researched some more of these sawdust carpets by reading about Semana Santa in the Fiesta! series Guatemala. This book describes Holy Week or Easter as the most colorful and biggest fiesta in Guatemala with Antigua having the best festival. During this time planting is done and Indians ask their gods to give them a good harvest. The week however is very solemn. The stores close and there are long religious rituals. Antigua was the capital when the Spaniards ruled and the traditions date back to that time, so this is why it has the biggest festival.

To make the carpets, local people make big stencils of birds, flowers, and religious symbols. They first lay down plain sawdust onto the wet ground. Then they use their stencils and colored sawdust to make the designs. They also embellish the carpets with flowers, pine needles, and fruit. To reach the middle of the designs without messing up what is already done they have raised pieces of wood to walk upon. These are made before Good Friday. The procession beings very early. Riders, dressed as Roman soldiers call for the death sentence of Jesus. Floats carry the figures of the Virgin Mary and Saint John as well as the effigy of Jesus. The men who pull the Christ floats are allowed to walk on the stenciled shapes on the street. They wear purple until 3 p.m., the time Jesus died on the cross. They carriers then change their clothes to black until Easter Sunday. Easter Sunday is a day of joy with music and dance. (Source: Fiesta! Guatemala by Grolier International)


Dyed Sawdust Carpet (Alfombra de Aserrin) 3
Source: GuateRob at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-3.0], from Wikimedia Commons


The largest float requires 80 men to carry it. They are switched every 10 to 15 minutes so the procession can require more than 2500 carriers. Women carry the float with the Virgin Mary on it. It is an honor to be a carrier and often it is passed down through generation to generation of a family. Incense is lite before the procession starts and the streets fill with spectators as well as carriers and smoke and scent from the incense. (Source)


Semana Santa Antigua Guatemala
Source: By Jialiang Gao www.peace-on-earth.org (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

The entire procession sounds like a perfect way to celebrate Easter. I hope some day to actually see it. I wanted to do a craft with the idea of sawdust carpets using colored sand, but we have not had time yet. If we do make one, I will be sure to post pictures here. How do you celebrate Easter? What are some of your family's traditions?

For a great first hand experience of the flower carpets in Antigua, check out World Travel Family's post Flower Carpets in Antigua Guatemala.

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