One of the best travelling presents you can ever get on the road, is stumbling into a festival or event, that you had no idea of. For the the past 7 days in Antigua, the primary objective of my life (and the woman’s) was going through tons of tastings, venues and details with a wedding planner. Fortunately, in booking this week for Guatemala travel, I stumbled into Easter week here. Now Easter week in Antigua is not some massive surprise – it’s pretty much the highlight of the year in Guatemala, but I wasn’t looking for it – hence the surprise. For those who are uninitiated … like me … Semana Santa in Antigua Guatemala consists of 5 elements
- Processions :
A collection of local townsfolk carry various floats – sometimes as long as ten hours – through the city streets. Swaying together to manage the load, the float-bearers make their way in an impressive demonstration of strength, dedication and stamina.
Float-carrying fathers walk hand-in-hand with their sons. Mothers, too, carry their baby girls. Waves of purple, white and black consume the streets. Until Friday afternoon, men are dressed in purple. After the crucifixion ceremony at noon on Good Friday, they change their robes to black. Throughout the day, women remain dressed in black and white, their heads covered in scarves.
- Sad Music :
Floats are often preceded and followed by musicians warbling semana santa music through tired instruments. Dirges feature heavy, slow brass tones punctuated by foreboding drums. A Spanish teacher aptly described it “sad music.” And while the float carriers switch off throughout the day, the musicians are in it for the long haul, playing sometimes for an entire morning and afternoon.
- Carpets (Alfombras) :
Holy week carpets are surely a visual highlight. Townspeople craft them by hand from piles of sawdust, dyed sands, cut fruit, berries, pine fronds, and corozo palms. Although the carpets require hours of patient labor and the effort of entire neighborhoods, they take only seconds to be destroyed by the marching processions. The final product is fleeting, temporary; the joy is clearly in the creation. Or perhaps more appropriately, the annual ritual creation of the alfombras serve as a metaphor for the cycle of life, death and rebirth.As we admired our favorite carpet on Good Friday morning, a local man explained to us that alfombras are borne entirely of private initiative. Families and communities work together to pay for, design and create the carpets. And there’s no sense returning next year to see your favorite design, for each year features new stencils and designs.
- Crucifixion Ceremony :
Fortunately in Antigua (in contrast to some places in the Philippines), there is no live body involved in the crucifixion ceremony. Church officials, dressed entirely in black, tie a statue of a bloodied Jesus to a cross and raise the cross in a fully-packed church. Even though this is obviously all a reenactment, the music and crowds conspire to make the event vaguely and eerily emotional. Several hours after the ceremony, men dressed in black carry another float, atop which the statue of Christ crucified (el señor sepultado) lays in a glass coffin
- Street Food
Every good festival needs good food. While you could find the usual street food suspects – pupusas, chiles rellenos, tostadas, grilled meat – well-represented during Antigua’s Semana Santa festivities, local street stalls also featured holiday treats like pepian, fish (dried or fried), plantains cooked in mole sauce, and empanadas filled with sweet milk.
With all that basic knowledge in your mind, this is a photo blog post – so on to all the pictures …