Why Do We Celebrate Easter
Semana Santa Amongst Hispanics
It all starts when we are little. As Hispanics, we typically grow up practicing the Roman Catholic faith we inherited from the Spaniards. Holy Week is one of the top Hispanic celebrations engraved in our traditions that we treasure dearly.
Living in the U.S. and sending my little one to school made me realize how different are things here for Hispanics when it comes to religion. In Latin America we normally attend Catholic schools, private or public, where religion is a top priority.
Until no long ago there was no separation from church and state in many of our countries of origin, therefore we acquired all the knowledge about these Hispanic celebrations in our weekly dosage of religious studies.
I would say Holy Week is our most important religious celebration, therefore the nuns educated us to answer these questions: Why do we celebrate Easter, its meaning, and how we celebrate it at home and at school.
1- Holy Week in Guatemala
2-Holy Week in Seville, Spain
3-Holy Week in Popayán, Colombia
5-Holy Week in New Mexico
Pretty much throughout Latin America, no stores or businesses are open at least from Jueves Santo or Holy Thursday on. Schools close the entire week, and for many, Semana Santa is a mixture of relaxation and religious celebration, translation: Beach time and praying.
What is Holy Week
Holy week is the yearly commemoration in the Christian calendar of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Semana Santa starts with Palm Sunday or Domingo de Ramos, and ends with Easter Sunday or Domingo de Resurrección.
How Hispanics Celebrate Semana Santa
The entire week has its own mini celebrations. On Domingo de Ramos or Palm Sunday Hispanics start by attending the procession of Domingo de Ramos, where Jesus comes riding on a donkey while the participants salute him with palms. These palms become the dark ashes for next year’s start of lent or Cuaresma on Miércoles de Ceniza or Ash Wednesday.
Jueves Santo or Holy Thursday
On Jueves Santo or Holy Thursday, we commemorate the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist. I remember seeing reenactments of the twelve apostles at the “Last Supper” in my neighborhood church, everybody paid special attention to Judas the traitor.
In San Juan de Puerto Rico, the famous Procesión del Silencio attracts many who come to see the young man who personifies Jesus. The multitude accompanies him silently to meet Judas who is going to betray him for 30 silver coins.
In Spain and other South American countries it is typical of Holy Thursday to visit the Monumentos. A Monumento or monstrance is the special place where the body of Christ resides for the following two days, Holy Friday and Holy Saturday when we don’t celebrate mass.
My parents, my sister and I always visited seven churches to pray at the Monumentos that housed the body of Christ. Symbolically we accompanied Jesus before his passion and death on Friday at 3:00pm.
Viernes Santo or Holy Friday
Viernes Santo is the busiest day of all because in many countries church goers reunite to participate in the procession that reenacts the passion of Christ. Young men and women make these processions alive by personifying Jesus, Mary, Pilatos, Mary Magdalen, etc., and their last actions.
If there is no reenactment, then “La Procesión del Santo Sepulcro” carries the images of Jesus of Nazareth, La Dolorosa or the Virgin Mary who is in pain to see what is happening to her son, Mary Magdalen, etc., until the multitude arrives at church to pray at the time Jesus dies.
In countries like Perú many celebrate with a mix of indigenous tradition and religious fervor. For example, on Holy Friday in Puno, many climb the small mountains and fast; later on they prepare special meals. At the same time youngsters congregate around bonfires to sing and enjoy.
Sábado Santo or Holy Saturday
Semana Santa continues with Sábado Santo which is a day to think about Jesus’ death and meaning as well as his visit to where all dead people are. Participants anxiously await Sunday to participate in the mystery of the resurrection.
During Holy Saturday churches dim the lights, altars are empty and all is quiet. It is a day of silence and reflexion which ends with the Vigilia Pascual
Domingo de Resurección or Easter Sunday
We end the Semana Santa or Holy week with Domingo de Resurrección, Pascua or Easter Sunday. This is the most important day of all because Roman Catholic Hispanics celebrate the resurrection of Jesus which is the main event that gives meaning to our faith.
Hispanics celebrate by attending Sunday mass where we light the Cirio Pascual or Paschal Candle. Some traditions are quite interesting, for example the province of Badajoz Spain, celebrates Easter Sunday with a competition of burning Judas.
In cities around Caracas Venezuela, the people not only burn Judas but also baptize him and name him “Secuestro” or kidnaping, “Narcotraficante” or drug trafficker and “Mr. Dollar.” In many other Hispanic countries processions are the norm.
If you want to experience a real Latino Semana Santa you can definitely travel to some of the most beautiful celebrations in Hispanic America like Mompox Colombia, Sevilla Spain, or Arequipa Peru. Hispanic Holy Week celebrations are filled with fervor and tradition, make sure to enjoy one.