Posts Tagged ‘Semana Santa Antigua Guatemala’

Antigua in Spring

Wednesday, March 21st, 2018

We returned home from Guatemala more than a week ago and already it feels like a dream. Before heading to the capital, we spent one night in Antigua, and a procession from the church in Jocotenango passed by our hotel. Members of our group made a pine needle carpet covered with flowers: the purple-clad pilgrims walk around it, leaving it to the carriers of the “anda” or platform to walk through and over, disrupting the design. (I’ve been told this symbolizes the transience of life on earth.) Finally, musicians. An essential part of the solemn processions, here posing to smile for me.


Antigua Semana Santa

Thursday, March 24th, 2016

I found photos from a 2013 trip with Olivia to Antigua during Semana Santa. It was a memorable visit—the processions, the solemn fervor (a balance hard to achieve, but somehow pervasive), the crowds, the carpets. All made better because many other adoptive families stayed at the same hotel and we shared the experience. (We were the lunatics up and out at 5 AM to watch artisans construct their rugs. )

The pix here are from Holy Thursday.




Guinness World Record to Guatemala

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

The Guinness Book of World Records has bestowed on Guatemala the award for “Longest Sawdust Carpet,” reports the Prensa Latina News Agency. Back in April, we visited Guatemala for our first-ever Semana Santa, and I wrote about our trip here. Watching the artistry and dedication involved in creating the carpets, and then witnessing the religious processions that follow, ranks as one of the most moving and memorable experiences of my life.

Spectacular, Guatemala. Congratulations!




Semana Santa 2013. Carpets, Rugs, Alfombras

Friday, April 26th, 2013

Finally, I’m posting photos of just a few of the amazing alfombras Olivia and I saw during our trip to Antigua over Semana Santa. In Guatemala, unlike in the US, Good Friday is the day considered most significant, which is why a friend of mine, a Catholic nun who lives in-country, describes Guatemalans as “Good Friday Catholics” versus Catholics in the US, whom she labels “Easter Catholics.” Having now participated in my first Semana Santa, I understand what she means.

Driving to Antigua from the airport, our cab driver had told us that the most spectacular carpets of all of Semana Santa could be seen on a street on Antigua’s north end called Calle Ancha. Teams of artists would have started construction around midnight on Holy Thursday; the earlier we arrived on Good Friday morning, he said, the better. Five AM was the hour he recommended, because that day’s procession started from the church known as La Merced around then, and would arrive at Calle Ancha by 7. As I explained in an earlier blog post, an essential element of constructing the carpets—for the artist and viewer—is watching them destroyed by the feet of the hundreds of pilgrims walking over them as they carry the procession platforms. To see the work intact, we needed to get there early.

Another adoptive mom, Rebecca, and I, slipped out of our hotel and were headed north by 5:30. After a few false turns and a run back to my room for my camera, which in my pre-coffee haze I had forgotten, Rebecca and I found Calle Ancha. Spectacular. Unforgettable. Worth every effort.

What I hadn’t expected, although I should have, was the tone of the day, and every day during Semana Santa, really. “Reverent, solemn, prayerful” are the most accurate descriptors. ”Artistic, creative, witty” are a close second. The processions themselves will require a separate post—in their own way, they were as gorgeous and impressive as the carpets.

Semana Santa stands out as one of the best experiences we’ve ever had in Guatemala. We’d love to return to see it again.

I hope you get there, too. Just be sure to make your reservations early! ~


Semana Santa 2013. Alfombra-making 101

Monday, April 1st, 2013

During Semana Santa in Antigua, Guatemala, groups of people related by family, work, friendship, association in a brother- or sisterhood, or by other ties I probably don’t know about, band together to construct elaborate “alfombras” or carpets, often referred to as “sawdust rugs.” The rugs are constructed in the street, over the cobblestones, or inside churches.

Although most commonly made from sawdust that is saturated with color and then dried, the alfombras can be made from anything: fruit, vegetables, pine needles—I even saw a Noah’s Ark filled with plastic figurines. The process takes hours, and many, many hands. Ironically, the alfombras are made to be destroyed—-at some point in the day or night a large religious procession will pass by and walk over it; more on this in another blog post—which for me as an “American” was a hard concept to grasp.

But now I get it. The honor is in the tradition, the building, the creative satisfaction, and, in this deeply religious country, the offering of one’s efforts for the glory of God.



Guatemala, Guatemala. February 2013

Monday, February 25th, 2013

Last Saturday, Mateo, my sister Patrice, and I arrived in my favorite place on earth, Antigua, Guatemala. It’s insane how much I love Antigua—the colonial architecture and cobblestone streets, the ring of volcanoes, the churches, the Square. We’ve been visiting Antigua since I fostered Olivia there in 2003, and every trip we discover something different. This time, we climbed Volcano Pacaya, an extraordinary adventure that deserves its own post, and will get one soon. We also spent two days at Lake Atitlan, my other favorite destination. Olivia’s Girl Scout troop collected some 75 pairs of gently used kids’ sneakers, soccer cleats, and shoes, which Mateo, Patrice, and I lugged down on the airplane, and hand-delivered to Mayan Families, an organization we support that serves indigenous families in the region. Pictures on that adventure to come, too.

This trip, we connected with three other adoptive families visiting Antigua, two with eight-year-old boys, and one with a younger girl. The girl’s family I had met virtually, through our mutual membership on an adoption listserve; I know the boys’ families through our local adoption group. I mention this as another benefit of forming adoption networks—when you visit Guatemala, you can meet up with friends. Mateo loved sharing meals and fun with all three kids. And let me tell you, for an active, eight-year-old boy, scaling Pacaya with two other active, eight-year-old boys qualifies as downright awesome.

The fabulous Nancy Hoffman, who has lived in Guatemala for more than a decade and is known to most of you reading this as the founder of, helped us with arrangements. If you’re planning to visit, contact her at and she’ll set you up.

The Saturday before we left, we visited friends who live in one of the small villages surrounding Antigua. After a lovely afternoon, on the way back to town, we passed local residents creating alfombras (carpets made of sawdust and various materials) outside their homes and businesses for the village’s Lenten procession later that night. The artists kindly indulged us by letting me take pictures while Mateo inspected their handiwork, delighted to take part in the local tradition.

Our trip consisted of dozens of such small, unexpected moments, which already have entered the realm of treasured memories. To me, those treasured memories are what give life meaning. I feel lucky to share them with my son Mateo, in his beautiful birth country of Guatemala.


In Guatemala

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

I apologize for suddenly droppping out of sight. For the past week, I’ve been in Guatemala with Mateo and my sister, Patrice. If you know any active eight-year-old boys, you know why I haven’t written. Mateo always keeps me running, and being in Guatemala hasn’t slowed him down.

We’re lucky to be here during Lent, the days leading up to Semana Santa, or Holy Week. Every Sunday during this season, a neighboring town hosts a religious procession through the streets of Antigua. Last Sunday, the procession started in Santa Catarina. Here are a few photos.

The crowds. The pageantry. I find it all very moving.

More later! ~


Semana Santa in Antigua

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

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.