People celebrate Semana Santa (Holy Week) throughout Central America, but traditions vary from country to country. Guatemalans might celebrate Semana Santa differently from Hondurans, for example. Salvadorians might celebrate differently from Nicaraguans.
But whether you have family in Central America, grew up in the region, or have spent time there, you know Holy Week is a big deal.
Semana Santa is a week-long celebration where thousands of people take part in elaborate processions. Enormous floats carry religious statues to local churches, and there’s a party atmosphere felt all around. For many people in Central America, it’s one of the most significant events in the cultural calendar.
At its core, this Catholic event, which originates from Seville, Spain, in the 16th century, remembers the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It typically takes place on Palm Sunday, the week before Easter Sunday. (Though specific dates differ depending on the location.) In many countries, people take time off from work to take part in the festival.
Let’s get to know some different Semana Santa traditions throughout Central America.
Flower in the Streets
Some Central American countries, like Guatemala, have a beautiful tradition of decorating the streets with flowers during Semana Santa. Each day, people use calla lilies, birds of paradise, bougainvillea, and other flowers to create unique designs.
Antigua, a city in Guatemala’s central highlands, covers its streets in unique floral carpets, or alfombras, all week. Each morning brings a new combination of flowers, fruits, vegetables, and brightly dyed sawdust that residents and visitors turn into images of birds, flowers, religious symbols, and colorful patterns. There aren’t any written rules about what designs you can make. Everyone does what they are inspired to create.
During the daily Via Crucis (Path of the Cross) processions, people across Guatemala march through the festive streets carrying large floats and life-sized versions of saints.
During the processions, families honor the suffering of Jesus—and his royalty—by hanging purple curtains in their windows and doorways. Others use cloth bows and colorful paper decorations that they affix to the outside of their homes. Each day creates a stunning visual impact that shows true devotion.
The festive scene changes at 4 am on Good Friday. The purple robes disappear and floats now show Jesus on the cross. Now, people appear dressed in black and holding candles to mourn the death of the Savior.
While some Central American country’s celebrations don’t pick up until later in the week, Honduras acknowledges every day of the week as a legitimate holiday. Cities and towns come to a standstill so people can focus on the week’s importance.
Many Hondurans eat special cuisine during the festival, such as Sopa de Capirotadas, a remarkable soup with cheese dumplings in a flavorful broth. Also on the menu are Nacatamales which are steamed corncakes stuffed with vegetables and meat then wrapped in banana leaves and steamed.
Rosquillas En Miel is another popular item during Semana Senta in some homes. This baked good is made of masa and cheese then drizzled or soaked in honey making it a sweet treat to end the meal with.
Few Semana Santa celebrations are as carefully planned and breathtaking as Viacrucis Acuatico on Lake Nicaragua. During Viacrucis Acuatico, boats sail around Lake Nicaragua. The people decorate their boats lavishly with flowers and images of Jesus. They sail their decorated ships from island to island, where people offer symbolic gifts meant to honor the death and resurrection of Jesus.
The procession shares similarities with the stations of the cross which isn’t surprising as the event’s name translates to English as “Aquatic Stations of the Cross.”
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