Prepare For Holy Week in Mexico

By: Erick Laseca

In Mexico, Easter is a nationwide spectacle of pageantry, reverence and celebration, lasting through out Holy Week. Planning for Holy Week starts with months of anticipation and festivities including passion plays, fervent processions and altar displays taking place all over the country.

Since the mass conversion of the indigenous peoples to Catholicism in the 16th century, Semana Santa (Holy Week) - a reverent observance of the last days of Jesus, and Pascua - a celebration of the resurrection - have become the most important religious holidays in Mexico next to Christmas.  As with most Mexican celebrations, Semana Santa combines the country’s strong Spanish heritage with elements of its prehispanic past.  For generations, pilgrims and tourists alike have journeyed to Mexico to witness the festive yet reverent Semana Santa

The solemn festivities usually begin on Palm Sunday, commemorating the day that Jesus arrived to Jerusalem prior to his crucifixion.  As the biblical passage goes, palm branches and clothing were spread in his path, and today, reenactments often include these elements.  Holy Thursday commemorates the day of the Last Supper, marked by nationwide visits to seven temples, designated churches in each town or city.  Good Friday marks the day that Jesus was crucified on the cross, with most Christians fasting on this day and reenactments of the crucifixion taking place all over the country. Easter Sunday is a day for celebration, commemorating the day of Jesus’ resurrection, featuring music, dance and cultural activities.

In addition to special mass ceremonies, an important and ubiquitous element of Semana Santa is the Passion Play, a dramatic reenactment of the crucifixion of Jesus.  The Passion Play was brought over to Mexico by Christian missionaries from Europe at a time when it and other religious plays were a widespread vital element of European culture.  The play not only survived in Mexico but was incorporated into the local dramatic rituals already an innate part of the local culture.  In Mexico, brilliant Aztec colors are noticeable throughout, and ancient dances are often performed alongside Christian rituals.

Most of the celebrations involve solemn processions, plays or reenactments of biblical scenes; others incorporate unusual elements into their festivities such as prehispanic dances and exploding Judases.  Thousands travel to popular destinations to enjoy the outdoors and take part in the festivities.

Creel, Chihuahua:  The mountainous indigenous community of Creel in northern Mexico, is a popular destination for a Holy Week.  Aside from enjoying the myriad of ecotourism activities in the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains, the Tarahumara Indians, one of the few remaining indigenous groups in the country, paint themselves white for Holy Week and host a special series of celebrations including dance and music dating back centuries, fusing prehispanic tradition with Catholicism. 

San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato: The colonial city of San Miguel de Allende in central Mexico comes alive during Holy Week.

By Palm Sunday, the city overflows with visitors as well as indigenous women selling flowers, palm crosses and religious articles outside the Parroquia with the Gothic cathedral bearing tall spires as the focal point of the city.

The city’s unending pageantry of plays and processions on Good Friday are unparalleled. Children dressed in biblical costumes and men dressed as Roman centurions ride on horseback through the winding cobblestone streets while life-size statues of the Virgin Mary, the Apostles, Mary Magdalene and John the Baptist are carried through the city.

Taxco, Guerrero: The picturesque silver mining town of Taxco is also a popular Holy Week destination, given its proximity to Mexico City.  Palm Sunday marks the beginning of many processions which begin in nearby villages. In commemoration of Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, an image of Jesus is mounted on the back of a donkey. As the donkey journeys to Taxco, palm fronds and flowers are laid on the ground.

On the night of Holy Thursday, candle-bearing penitents walk in procession to the baroque Church of Santa Prisca. A reenactment of the Last Supper is performed. The Resurrection play, staged around nine o’clock on Saturday morning, is an awe-inspiring site to behold. A final and joyful procession takes place on Easter Sunday.

San Luis Potosi, San Luis Potosi:  The colonial city of San Luis Potosi, located 257 miles north of Mexico City, will celebrate its fifty-second Procession of Silence this year, one of the most important Catholic manifestations in the country.  With the participation of more than 2,000 Potosinos, the solemn procession will begin at the Templo de Santo Domingo at eight o’clock in the evening on Good Friday and will make its way through the downtown historic area.  

Similar to the ceremony in Sevilla, Spain, penitents don hoods as they walk silently through the streets, carrying torches and holy images. During Holy Week, San Luis Potosi features more than 90 events, including concerts, a national food festival, and a tennis tournament, now on its fiftieth year.

Ixtapalapa, Mexico City:   Few would guess that a small district just south of downtown Mexico City would be in the international spotlight during Semana Santa.   More than a million people gather in Ixtapalapa every year to witness an entire town convert into a great stage to present a passion play that has been reenacted annually for 150 years.  Months prior to Semana Santa, the town comes alive with preparations for the most important event of the year, incorporating each member of the community.   While there is a part for everyone, actors are carefully chosen, with the most important parts such as Jesus and the Virgin Mary being the greatest honor.  The actor who plays Jesus in particular must meet certain requirements such as height, weight and physical condition.  The part is as physically demanding as it is emotionally challenging, since the reenactment requires the actor to carry a 200-pound cross through the town, after receiving an actual whipping.

Michoacan State:  Starting with Palm Sunday, performances representing biblical passages take place throughout the state.  In San Lorenzo, a small town in the Purepecha area, about 200 miles west of Mexico City, the celebration takes a special twist, with young people carrying six-foot tall palm leaves to church. 

Holy Wednesday in the town of Tlalpujahua involves a procession in which huge images of Jesus Christ from the XVI and XVIII century grab the eyes of the spectators.  Good Friday in Patzcuaro and Morelia include silent processions for the arrest, trial, crucifixion, death and burial of Jesus Christ. Easter Sunday, the day of Jesus’ resurrection, is the last day of celebration. In Tarimbaro, el carnaval chiquito (the small carnival) takes place during which people dance in the streets while Judas figurines explode like fireworks.

About the Mexico Tourism Board

The Mexico Tourism Board (MTB) brings together the resources of federal and state governments, municipalities and private companies to promote Mexico's tourism attractions and destinations internationally. Created in 1999, the MTB is Mexico’s tourism promotion agency, and its participants include members of both the private and public sectors. The MTB has offices throughout North America, EuropeFind Article, Asia and Latin America.  

Erick Laseca

Mexico Tourism Board

312-228-0517 ext14

erick.laseca@bm.com

www.visitmexicopress.com

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