Celebrate Semana Santa in Antigua, Guatemala

by jdobbe / Mar 31, 2017 /
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The peaceful Central American town of Antigua, Guatemala, sits beneath dormant volcanoes that overlook quaint cobblestone streets, historical Colonial churches, and brightly decorated shops. Leafy Parque Central, abundant with manicured trees and the ever present Spanish fountain, occupies the very heart of the city. With its tranquil and calming ambience, it is the ideal hamlet for Guatemalans and tourists to sit and enjoy the highlights of Antigua. 

Celebrate Semana Santa in Antigua, Guatemala

 Antigua is also well known for having the largest Easter, or Semana Santa, celebrations in the world. In 2015, an estimated 1.5 million people visited the small colonial city during Holy Week. With its lively and vibrant preparations, processions, and pageantry, Semana Santa, Spanish for Holy Week, begins each year on Palm Sunday and continues on through Easter Sunday. During the week, schools, businesses, government offices, and even the entire town will close down for festivities. 

Celebrate Semana Santa in Antigua, Guatemala
Celebrate Semana Santa in Antigua, Guatemala

Celebrated throughout most Spanish-speaking countries, Semana Santa is the most spiritual, vibrant, and symbolic time of the year. The passion celebration and resurrection of Christ takes place in the center of the city where andas, massive floats carrying religious sculptures, are paraded down closed off streets by solemn-faced, purple-garbed worshippers. The heavy scent of incense hangs in the air, as the hollow sound of beating drums announce the solemn processions. 

Celebrate Semana Santa in Antigua, Guatemala
Celebrate Semana Santa in Antigua, Guatemala

Intricate and elaborate alfombras, outdoor carpets made from colored sawdust pressed into cardboard stencils, adorn the streets in the center of Antigua. Decorated with biblical symbols and Mayan designs, artists also use leaves, flowers, fruits, and vegetables as finishing touches. The beauty of the lavish alfombras is however, only temporary, as the long, slow processions pass over them sending sawdust and other materials into disarray. 

Alfombras. From Celebrate Semana Santa in Antigua, Guatemala
Alfombras. From Celebrate Semana Santa in Antigua, Guatemala
Alfombras. From Celebrate Semana Santa in Antigua, Guatemala

Guatemalans also consider Holy Week an opportune time to display their exotic trinkets, tapestries, and handicrafts. The indigenous Mayans climb down from the highlands in droves, carrying bundles of items upon their backs. Women wearing traditional hand woven garments shuffle along the uneven streets and hawk their wares to the many tourists that flood the city during the holiday. If you’re a sucker for primitive handicrafts and vividly colored handmade weavings, rugs, blankets, tapestries, pillows, clothing, and bags like I am, then Antigua has a great deal to offer you. A little bartering in U.S. currency and Guatemalan quetzales is customary and expected, but remember these women put long and painstaking hours into their exotic weavings and designs, making them uniquely Mayan and worth every centavo. 

Celebrate Semana Santa in Antigua, Guatemala
Celebrate Semana Santa in Antigua, Guatemala
Celebrate Semana Santa in Antigua, Guatemala
Celebrate Semana Santa in Antigua, Guatemala

My personal experience of traveling to Guatemala in April, 2013, is one that has never left me. The sloping beauty of the country, the kindness and humbleness of the Mayan people, along with the intense colors of the traditional weavings, still resonates with me today. 

Celebrate Semana Santa in Antigua, Guatemala
Celebrate Semana Santa in Antigua, Guatemala

After having celebrated Chinese New Year in Singapore, Christmas in Rome, Italy, and New Year’s Eve in Istanbul, Turkey, I found Antigua’s celebrations of Semana Santa to be unparalleled, and an incredible travel opportunity. Whether you are Catholic, Lutheran, Muslim, or Agnostic, Holy Week in Antigua is about much more than religion; it is an eye-opening and stunning event that will overwhelm even the most seasoned of travelers.

Celebrate Semana Santa in Antigua, Guatemala
Celebrate Semana Santa in Antigua, Guatemala

 

Jill Dobbe is an international educator and published author who writes about her experiences living and working in schools and countries around the world. She presently lives in her seventh country, Honduras, with her husband, Dan, and her Yorkie-Poo, Mickey. While working as an elementary principal, Jill also writes, reads, takes photos of the beautiful people and countries of Latin America, and muddles her way through the Spanish language. Jill loves her life as an international educator, and most days, feels like she is living her dream.

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All photos courtesy and copyright Jill Dobbe