Written by: Ilene Solomon
Semana Santa, or Holy Week, corresponds to the last week of Lent (the week before Easter), and down here in Latin America, represents one of the most significant weeks of the year.
Prior to the Spanish and Portuguese explorations in the late 1400s, however, much of Latin American religion centered on animistic, polytheistic, and ancestor worship. With the increase of European voyages to Central and South America, Christian missionaries soon followed. Thus, began the spread of Christianity—primarily Catholic and Protestant sects—and the start of Semana Santa (of course, with a Latin flare).
Countries from Mexico down to Argentina commemorate this important holiday with their own unique flavor. For example, Abriendo Mentes Co-Founders, Meradith and Drew, spent this Semana Santa in Cusco, Peru. They watched a huge parade in the Plaza de Armas, where the Regional army marched and bands performed. With the famous Catholic Cathedral in the background, they were reminded of the religious spirit of the holiday, among the festivities.
AM volunteers Rachael, Miriam, and Shannon had the opportunity to spend their Semana Santa in Granada, Nicaragua, where they take their Catholic traditions very seriously. While touring a Cathedral, locals prepared statues of Mary and Jesus for what appeared to be a play. The volunteers later realized that it was for a parade. Rachael explained that sound of drums beating loudly, yet slowly, began before trumpets and other brass instruments started playing a slow, sad melody. She said, “it made me actually feel like I was walking with someone to their death.” Behind the marching musicians came the rest of the parade, with people dressed in head to foot purple robes, and a cone shaped top. Above their heads they held a statue of Jesus carrying a cross and another of Mary. The parade traveled around the entire city of Granada and finished at a Cathedral for Mass. “It was an interesting experience to see how other cultures celebrate Semana Santa. It opened our minds to different things other than Easter candy and egg hunts!” Rachael reflected.
But here in Potrero, Costa Rica, crowds of tourists from San Jose lined the beaches and filled the dirt roads with SUVs. Because most Ticos get Semana Santa week of from work, it is the perfect excuse to rent a beach house and spend time with friends and family. On the other hand, some families still honor the religious roots of Holy Week, like first grader, Jose Arturo, who celebrated by going to church with his family. Even though Potrero is such a small town, no Latin American community is complete without a church…and a soccer field.
Another interesting fact about the Costa Rican Semana Santa: without fail, the first rain of the season falls during this week. When chatting with a San Jose-turned-Potrero resident, Adriana, she said, “The Ticos believe its God’s way of speaking to us. He sends the first rains down during Semana Santa to show us He is here with us.” This year did not disappoint! The gray skies opened on the Tuesday of Semana Santa, and let out a huge shower of refreshing rain.
So whether praying in church, participating in a parade, watching marching bands, relaxing by the beach, or enjoying the fresh rain, Semana Santa is a week filled with tradition and celebration in Latin America. Latinos spread throughout the Americas can thank their Spanish and Portuguese ancestors for this holiday, and thank themselves for adding their own unique flare.