Written by Dianne Sivulka, owner of Travel on Purpose
April 11, 2022
In celebration of Holy Week that began yesterday with Palm Sunday, I have found myself reminiscing about our time in Guatemala last month. Each time I return to this small country in Central America I learn more about its culture and unique traditions. The season of Lent and Easter are an especially vibrant time of celebration and remembrance. Keep reading to find out what we learned during our visit in March.
Last month, our Travel on Purpose tour got a peek into what Holy Week (Semana Santa) is like in Antigua, Guatemala. Each day during our visit, we witnessed preparations and learned how Jesus' death and resurrection are celebrated in this Spanish-colonial city each year.
This was my first time being in Antigua during the Easter season, and I loved the experience! Learning this part of Guatemalan culture was an added charm for this already culturally immersive travel experience.
Here are ten fascinating things we learned:
1. Various activities for Holy Week take place every day (and throughout the whole season of Lent). But the grand finale is on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
2. Men and boys in silken purple robes fill the streets and swing incense holders. We got to see this displayed in the hallways of the Casa Santo Domingo.
The beautiful hallways of the Casa Santo Domingo
3. A unique carpet tradition (los alfombras) started in the 8th-century in Spain and was brought to Guatemala when the Spanish started arriving in the 1500s.
4. Sand is spread over the cobblestones to create a level area for the carpets. Dyed sawdust in bright colors are pressed through intricately designed cardboard stencils. Lastly, flowers, seeds, egg shells, plants, vegetables, and pine needles add the final touches to these fleeting works of art.
5. The carpets' designs reflect Biblical symbols, Mayan traditions, and scenes from nature.
Watch this YouTube video to see the carpets
6. It is said that walking the float route on Good Friday before daybreak is the best way to enjoy the spectacular art. Although Antigua swells with visitors and traffic is a nightmare, it's a spectacular site to see. Everyone who has been to Antigua for Holy Week says it's a "once in a lifetime" experience and should not be missed if you have the chance!
7. Then the procession begins, and marchers carry heavy floats down the streets of Antigua and trample over the carpets. What took days to create is destroyed instantly as the parade passes. Floats have to be carried by many people as they can weigh up to 7,000 pounds.
8. Families often plan and design their carpets months ahead and may start making their carpet an entire day before the procession arrives.
9. A float with a sculpture of Jesus carrying the crucifix leads crowds of mourners who pray silently and follow behind. We got to see this exquisite sculpture of Jesus up-close on our historical walking tour.
10. In the afternoon on Good Friday, a mock trial with the sentencing of Jesus takes place. Participants are dressed as Roman soldiers, and even Pontius Pilate is represented. We were told that the procession passes by the city jail and they let an inmate go free. Wow!
We all enjoyed the experience so much that I look forward to hosting more group tours to Guatemala during Lent in the future. Who knows, maybe one day we will plan a tour during Semana Santa.
Plans are already underway for a March 2023 tour. Let me know if you'd like to be added to the interest list. We can't wait to return!