Special Events in Antigua Guatemala:
Easter Week (Semana Santa)
Easter week (Semana Santa in Spanish, Holy week) is by far the most colorful and fascinating time in Antigua Guatemala. Thousands and thousands of visitors from near and far come to Antigua each year to watch the processions and other religious festivities, which are among the most spectacular in the entire western hemisphere.
|The centerpiece of each procession is a large wooden float depicting a scene from the Passion of Jesus Christ. The floats, which are carried through the streets of Antigua for up to eight hours, are lavishly decorated and weigh several thousand pounds.|
|The largest floats require 80 carriers, who are replaced every 10-15 minutes. Thus more than 2500 carriers are needed for some processions! There is no shortage of carriers, however, as it is considered an honor to participate in the processions.|
|The women carry their own floats with the figure of the Virgin Mary. Their floats are somewhat smaller and lighter than the men's floats, but carrying them is still hard work.|
|The tradition of participating in the processions is passed down from grandfather to father to son in many families and the young ones are very enthusiastic about following in their footsteps.|
|Long before the floats pass by, the streets begin to fill up with carriers and spectators. The clouds of incense can be seen — and smelled! — from several blocks away, making it easy to locate the processions.|
|Each major float is followed by a band that plays religious songs during the entire procession. The musicians' part is arguably the hardest of all participants as they stay with the procession from beginning to end and are not replaced in between.|
|On Good Friday participants dressed as Roman soldiers appear in the streets. They read the charges against Jesus in various parts of town and also precede some of the processions.|
|Besides the large processions organized by the local churches, many smaller ones arrive in Antigua from nearby towns and villages. Those who come from farther away sometimes ease their burden a bit by placing their floats on small carts instead of carrying them.|
|Residents along the route of the processions often create elaborate carpets of pine needles, flowers and colored sawdust in the street for the processions to walk over.
This tradition dates back to the 16th century and was meant to ease walking on the uneven cobblestone streets. Antigua Guatemala is one of very few places in Latin America where this tradition is still alive.
|Making these magnificent carpets takes many hours and often families work all night, assisted by friends and relatives from other parts of town, to have them ready just before the procession arrives.|
|While great care is taken not to disturb the designs before the procession arrives, the carriers of the floats walk right over them and destroy these works of art after only a few minutes — until they are recreated for another procession the following year.|