I am taking the liberty of republishing my post from last year with a few revisions in honor of the upcoming Easter celebrations in Mexico. I hope those of you who saw the original posting a year ago will appreciate it again. And for those who are new to Mexico and Beyond: Laura's Photo Journey here is the chance to see it for the first time. Gracias and enjoy!
Now for a brief introduction: Easter in Mexico is a two-week holiday consisting of Semana Santa beginning on Palm Sunday and ending Easter Saturday and Pascua (Starting with Easter Sunday and ending the following Saturday). For Mexico, the Easter holidays are a combination of Semana Santa (Holy Week) and Pascua (Resurrection Sunday aka Easter). Holy Week celebrates the last days of the Christ's life and Pascua is the celebration of Christ's Resurrection. Got it? Now we are ready to talk Easter in Mexico!
Aaugh! I hope I have made myself perfectly clear in my attempt to explain Semana Santa and Pascua, the two weeks of Easter celebrations in Mexico!
Semana Santa is undoubtedly the most important holiday in Mexican culture. Schools and often businesses in Mexico close during these two weeks and many Mexican families go on holiday during Semana Santa and Pascua. The crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ are the foundations of the Christian faith. That is why the major branches of Christendom (Roman Catholic, Protestant and the Eastern Churches) memorialize in various ways the death, burial and resurrection of Christ each spring.
The Silent Processions on Good Friday in Oaxaca City are spectacular!
Mexicans celebrate the last days of Christ during Holy Week with elaborate and much anticipated processions, ceremonies, and rituals. Most of the larger Semana Santa celebrations include a dramatic reenactment of the capture, the trial, and the crucifixion of Jesus. To be a part of these productions is a great honor and the actors are known for delivering inspiring and moving performances. The primary days of Semana Santa include the following:
Palm Sunday - Domingo de Ramos
On the Sunday prior to Easter, known as Palm Sunday, the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem is commemorated. According to the Bible, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and the people in the streets laid down palm branches in his path. In many towns and villages in Mexico on this day there are processions reenacting Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem with woven palms available for purchase outside the churches.
Processions through the cobblestone streets of San Miguel de Allende on Palm Sunday.
In Mexico communities also have special masses dedicated to the blessing of palm fronds. These fronds are often woven into crosses and other designs and can be quite intricate. These palm fronds are brought by parishioners to the churches to have holy water sprinkled on them. Some of these palm fronds are then later burned and the ashes saved for marking foreheads on the following Ash Wednesday.
A great many handmade Palm Sunday remembrances are available during Semana Santa.
Good Friday - Viernes Santo
A lovely altar to the Virgin Mary as seen in San Miguel de Allende during Semana Santa celebrations.
With more 90 than million Roman Catholics, Mexico has the second largest number of Catholics in the world after Brazil. It also has some of the most vibrant celebrations of Good Friday – the day Christ is believed to have been betrayed by Judas, sentenced by Pontius Pilate, and crucified.
Good Friday procession in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Good Friday commemorates the day of Christ’s crucifixion. On this day in Mexico there are solemn religious processions in which statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary are carried through town. Reenactments of the day of crucifixion also take place in almost all communities in Mexico on Good Friday. These reenactments often become a large theatrical production (the Passion Play) which is performed during all or most of Holy Week. The main focus of these reenactments is the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, the Betrayal, the Judgment, the procession with the cross (Via Crucis: Stations of the Cross), the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection.
Good Friday celebrations in Oaxaca City are truly memorable.
The Roman soldiers at the Good Friday procession in San Miguel de Allende.
San Miguel de Allende is especially noted for its observances during Holy Week and which we were fortunate to witness during the years we spent in this charming city. The focus for much of the Good Friday pageantry is the “El Señor de la Columna” Christ image, which is brought from the Sanctuary of Atotonilco outside of San Miguel de Allende and which is paraded among the various churches of San Miguel from the Sunday before Palm Sunday to the Wednesday after Easter when it returns to Atotonilco.
"Once a year for nearly 200 years, the faithful have gathered at the shrine of Atotoniclo at midnight two Sundays before Easter. They remove images of Nuestro Señor de la Columna, Saint John and Mary and place them on platforms to be carried approximately 7 miles to the San Juan de Dios Church in San Miguel de Allende. Nuestro Señor de la Columna is a life-size image of a bleeding Christ leaning heavily on a column. His ribs are exposed from flogging and his cheek bears the scar of the Judas kids." Credit: http://blog.antiguacapillasanmiguel.com
On Good Friday, “El Señor de la Columna” Christ image is carried to La Parroquia, the parish church on the main plaza of San Miguel, accompanied by residents dressed as disciples of Christ and as Roman soldiers. At noon, images of the Holy Family, the disciples, Mary Magdalene, and John the Baptist are carried in the Good Friday procession through the city streets. At dark, the images reappear in another procession, but dressed in black and accompanied by somber drumbeats. During the evening procession conchero dancers may also appear dancing in honor of Christ at the main plaza. See my blog posting dated March 6, 2015 on the Fiesta de los Concheros at the following link: LOS CONCHEROS
There are many images to be remembered from the Good Friday procession in San Miguel de Allende.
Holy Week in San Miguel de Allende concludes with the ritual of the burning of Judas on Easter Sunday, not Holy Saturday as is more common elsewhere in Mexico. Holy Week and Good Friday are truly special occasions in San Miguel and which I can highly recommend. Just be sure to make your travel arrangements with plenty of advance notice!
The crowds gather at the Santo Domingo Church and Convent for the Good Friday Silent Procession in Oaxaca City.
The Good Friday traditional Silent Procession in Oaxaca City - wow!
But the most impressive of all the processions on Good Friday is held at night and is conducted in silence. To say we were stunned and speechless is an understatement. The pageantry and drama of this evening procession in Oaxaca is difficult to convey in words. The only sound to be heard was the shuffling of feet and the somber beating of drums as the parade passed by the large and impressive Santo Domingo Church and Convent. The participants in this Good Friday procession carry candles to light their way with incense burners filling the air with smoke. This parade takes you back in time and makes you feel as though you were there. Truly a moving experience!
Easter Sunday at the Alto Carmen Church and La Danza de las Plumas in Oaxaca City.
Good Friday in Puerto VallartaIn Puerto Vallarta, locals and visitors alike participate in Easter processions and religious celebrations including Good Friday. The Good Friday processions is especially colorful and unique because it takes place on the city’s beautiful oceanfront Malecon walkway. The procession commences in Centro and continues on the Malecon into Old Town (Zona Romantica) until it reaches Parque Cardenas (Plaza Cardenas) where the crucifixion of Christ is staged. The Good Friday procession in Puerto Vallarta is very traditional in spirit, but very different because of it’s setting. It is truly special!
Disciples of Christ and Angels participate in the Good Friday procession in Puerto Vallarta.
Easter festivities start on Palm Sunday when churches across the city celebrate the blessings of the palm fronds. In observance of Maundy Thursday locals hold all-night vigils. On Good Friday, the city streets are filled with spirited religious processions and the Christ re-enactments.
Good Friday Procession in Puerto Vallarta
On Easter Sunday, most locals enjoy a large family meal after attending mass at their local church. This is usually a quiet and relaxing day unless you happen to be going to the beach to play and party! And then you better be prepared for fun, fun, fun in the sun!
A Huichol family from the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range enjoy Easter Sunday in Puerto Vallarta.
Holy Saturday - Sabado de Gloria
A real life "angel" dressed for the Semana Santa celebrations in San Miguel de Allende.
Sábado de Gloria (Holy Saturday) is dedicated to the vigil of waiting between the death of Jesus and his resurrection. This holy day memorializes the full day Christ was in the tomb. Statues of the Virgin Mary are dressed in black as a symbol of mourning. Frequently there is a solemn evening mass during which participants hold lighted candles.
“El Señor de la Columna” Christ image during an evening Semana Santa procession in San Miguel de Allende.
In some areas of central and southern Mexico on Holy Saturday there is a custom of burning Judas in effigy because of his betrayal of Jesus. This ritual was introduced by the Spaniards during the colonial period when they were busy converting the indigenous peoples to Christianity. This practice has now has become a festive occasion with cardboard or paper mache figures constructed, sometimes with firecrackers inside, and then burned. Often the Judas figures are made to look like Satan, but sometimes they are made to resemble contemporary political figures!
Easter Sunday - Domingo de Pascua
A family dressed for Easter Sunday Mass in Oaxaca City - simply lovely!
Easter Sunday celebrates the Resurrection of Christ. Bells and fireworks announce the arrival of Easter and Sunday morning mass is traditionally followed by a large family feast. You won't come across any mention of the Easter Bunny or chocolate eggs on Easter Sunday in Mexico! This is generally a day when people go to church and celebrate quietly with their families. Pascua begins on Easter Sunday which starts the second week of Easter celebrations in Mexico. This week-long period follows Semana Santa (Holy Week) and has a much more cheerful and positive tone, reflecting the resurrection, the start of Spring, and the promise of new beginnings.
OTHER EASTER TRADITIONS:
There are many regional Holy Week customs in Mexico. For example:
*Tarahumara Indians in the mountains of Chihuahua paint themselves white during Holy Week.
* In some cities, including Oaxaca City, there is a Procesión de Silencio, a silent procession, wherein the people march down the streets by candlelight and in silence. This custom is from the Spanish city of Seville which is famous for Semana Santa observances.
*In Iztapalapa (also spelled Ixtapalapa), an area of Mexico City, the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday becomes a titanic, spectacular celebration which attracts people not only from Mexico, but from around the world. In fact, the Passion Play in Iztapalapa is so impressive that both national and international media cover the event from the beginning to the end.
The Iztapalapa Passion Play is a community endeavor organized and carried out annually by the residents. It is sponsored by the secular Iztapalapa government, but is not officially sanctioned by the Catholic Church. The drama includes 4000 locals as actors and reportedly draws 2 million spectators. Wow!
All of the pageant’s actors must have been born in Iztapalapa. Whoever portrays Christ is selected on the basis of both good moral character and physical strength. The actor wears an actual crown of thorns, is flogged, and bears a 200 pound cross through the streets, before being “crucified” (thankfully tied to the cross, not nailed). From what I have read the Ixtapalapa Passion Play is truly a sight to behold.
* In many regions of Mexico people show their devotion by visiting twelve different churches in a single day – one church for each apostle.
* In more remote regions like the Copper Canyon local cultures mix Christian celebration with ancient native rituals thus paying homage to both their Spanish and Indian heritage.
*In Oaxaca City, local indigenous men perform the Danza de las Plumas, the "Dance of the Feathers" on Easter Sunday.
Beautiful and colorful Easter flowers from San Miguel de Allende.
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