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Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Guatemala

Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Guatemala

Mayan Culture meets Catholicism

Have you ever been in Guatemala during Easter?

If so, then you know it is can be quite the event. A cozy hardboiled egg breakfast at home or your mother’s best Easter egg hunt are not going to top it. I have only been in Xela 3 weeks--and I’ve already experienced the excitement.

Semana Santa—also known as Holy Week—is the week prior to Easter. During this week, the Passion, the Crucifix, and the Resurrection of Jesus are celebrated. It comes from Spanish tradition, brought over when the Spanish colonized Guatemala around 1524. Over the years—with the spread of Catholicism—Guatemalans have completely embraced it and added their own twist. Catholic or not, Semana Santa remains a very exciting and worthwhile experience for everyone…no matter your religious background. Festivities for Semana Santa here are amongst the biggest in the world.

This is my first time in Guatemala and I’m lucky enough to be here this upcoming Holy Week. In the weeks prior I’ve been surprised with some kind of procession almost every day.  

Picture this:

On my morning walk to Trama Textiles I bump into a large group of hundreds of students slowly strolling over the pebble stone streets of Xela. All the kids in this procession look their best, dressed in uniforms with accents of purple. The people leading the long parade carry a wooden float with statues of Jesus atop them. This happens to be the first procession I stumble across here in Xela.

Or just like any other Friday in Amsterdam, I hit up my colleagues and meet them for a drink in the city center. But this time, on my way there I hear an unusual amount of noise.

Here’s an unrelated fun fact: Xela’s historical center—where we all live and work—is not that big. Everything is within walking distance, thankfully.  I walk to Trama, then at 1pm walk to my favorite lunch spot, only to continue walking to Spanish class I take later in the afternoon. If you ever make it to Xela, you’ll love the easiness of walking everywhere!

There appears to be a fair in the Parque Central. And here there are many different market stands offering various local cuisines such as pupusas (corn tortillas filled with cheese, bean and pork), tortillas covered with mixed vegetables and soy, or licuados or atol de elote, a sweet, thick corn-based beverage. Nearby the marketplacethere’s a stage,and something is going on this evening! Then I bump into some young men in purple gowns with religious hoods raised over their heads. I quickly make it to the rooftop bar we’ve chosen to enjoy a nice view of the square and spectate the proceedings. More and more young men drive up in chicken buses (formerly North American school buses, now reborn and recycled and reused here, painted in fun vibrant colors), then they walk down the streets with sticks, singing loudly together and lighting off tons of very, very loud fireworks. Emphasis on the loud part.

So what is going on around me? If you’ve followed the picture—let me just say—even I truly don’t know.  But it’s fun to observe and learn more. So I booked a tour to visit some churches and explore these Catholic rituals in Xela, a historically Mayan civilization.





Here’s the first Catholic church built in Latin  America, and it is very close to Xela. Can you spot the maze?



The Lonely Planet fans amongst you may recognize this Catholic church from the cover of the Guatemala edition. Despite this being a Catholic church, these vibrant colors stem from Mayan traditions.

Yellow - the color of the sun and warmth
Red - for blood or the sunset
Green - stands for nature and money
Black - for death, night or darkness
Purple (which the church was decorated with inside) - is the color of Semana Santa!

During Holy Week, the streets of the celebrating Guatemalan cities will be flooded with these colors. Imagine. *Hearteyes*


And here are some beautiful stained glass windows and purple Semana Santa drapes. As I said, you do not have to be religious to appreciate these marvelous cultural buildings and their atmospheres.  

Antigua is one of the most famous cities in the world that celebrates Semana Santa. There, large alfondo’s or impressive flower carpets decorate the streets everywhere!

Still, I’ll be in Xela for this upcoming Holy Week, and after living here for three weeks already, I couldn’t be more excited!

I’m sure it will be amazing—and probably blog post worthy again. After all, the Easter celebrations in Guatemala are amongst the largest in the world. If you’re considering visiting Guatemala (highly recommended!), Xela is a great place to do so. I’ve had such an unforgettable and unique experience in such little time.  And if you can make here during Holy Week—even better!

This year Holy Week starts on Sunday, April 14th 2019 and ends Saturday, April 20th 2019.

See you there!


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