Semana Santa in Antigua

One of these years, I hope to spend Semana Santa, also known as Holy Week, the days leading up to Easter Sunday, in Antigua. Everyone says it’s fabulous. Well, that’s not exactly true. A friend from Guatemala who grew up in Antigua says it’s his least favorite holiday–”Too many tourists”–and a woman I met in Boston on my book tour said her pocket was picked–not once, but three different times.

Nevertheless, I’d still like to go. Last summer at Latin American Heritage Camp in Colorado, Cynthia Rothwell gave a fascinating presentation on Holy Week as it’s celebrated throughout Guatemala. Participants like me were able to create our own miniature alfombras, or carpets, using stencils and piles of sawdust that had been dyed, and which Cynthia carried in her checked luggage, all the way from Guatemala. The hardest part was “erasing” the rug after creating it. Imagine how the Guatemalan artists feel when their hours of handiwork are finally trampled by a thousand passing feet.

Holy Week in Antigua Guatemala, posted by “chezi” on TravelBlog in 2009, gives a wonderful overview of the tradition. In the April 2011 edition of Guatemala’s English language Revue Magazine, Antigua historian Elizabeth Bell offers her helpful tips for getting the most of the carpet-viewing experience. My two favorite Elizabeth tips:

  • Processions usually take about 12 hours. Depending on the time of day or night, I locate a good corner and get on the right-hand side of the Christ figure. The sculpture is best appreciated when He looks at you. All Christ figures (except in the children’s procession from the cathedral) look to the right-hand side. Corners are great so I can see the carriers (men called cucuruchos and women called cargadoras) change turns with precision. It usually takes a full hour to see the entire procession go by and then, instead of trying the beat the crowds, I can easily walk away from the procession. 
  • Do not take anything of value to velaciones or processions. Pickpockets work the crowds seamlessly. No passports. No credit cards. I usually put a camera around my neck and pack a few quetzales and then go back to my home or hotel afterward when I decide to go out again for a meal.
  • Finally, for gorgeous procession photos check out the website AntiguaDailyPhoto. The site is a great resource for stunning visuals any time of year, but especially during Semana Santa. Looking at the photos I vow once again: Next year in Antigua during Holy Week. Definitely.


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    2 Responses to “Semana Santa in Antigua”

    1. Nancy Bailey says:

      The Guatemalan alfombra makers, my daughters are two of them, expect their works of art to be walked over by the anda carrying Jesus and the cucuruchos. I am always amazed that foreigners refer to the alfombras as being trampled or destroyed. Guatemalans work hours and hours making the alfombras to specifically be walked over by the andas carrying Jesus and the cucuruchos. I have never in 17 years of celebrating Semana Santa heard any Guatemalan say anything about their alfombra being destroyed. I think that is pretty much an American culture thing, not Guatemalan.

    2. Jessica says:

      Nancy, I stand corrected. Thank you so much for pointing that out.

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