Antigua is the best place to witness and partake in Semana Santa – Holy Week Festival.
So how do you get the best out of Semana Santa? If you’re planning on attending a Spanish School on your travels, Semana Santa is a good time to do it. Why? First, Accommodation (especially in Antigua) is often booked out weeks or months in advance so studying with a school, and in turn, staying with a host family is a great idea! Secondly, Spanish Schools often have extra curricular activities that include making an alfombra (the bright coloured carpets laird in the street). We attended Sevilla who provided this extra activity. Ask your school ahead of time if they have something similar planned.
You also need to understand the celebrations and some of the lingo. Semana Santa means Holy Week and is the equivalent to the western Easter but with a whole lot more devotion and passion. There’s no commercialised easter traditions here!
Alfombras and andas are the two main components of the daily processions. Many intricate and colourful alfombras (carpets) are constructed with hours and hours of labour by the residents and community groups of Antigua. The carpets are often made of sawdust tirelessley mixed with colourful dyes before being laid with the aid of huge stencils. Because of the time and money involved many people opt for a more modest approach of laying pine needles, flowers and other decorations. There’s no doubt that every carpet is unique and created with time and devotion….only to be trampled all over!
Andas (floats) are then carried by men and woman of the church who trample all over the carpets. All this may seem like a waste to an outsider but is regarded as a sign of devotion to the church and god. The first anda depicts Jesus with a cross and is carried around by purple robed members of the churches. These floats are heavy with many back up men ready to share the load. The following anda depicts Mary and is carried by the woman of the church, dressed in black. To carry an anda is a huge privilege to many which is passed on through generations.
Also, having some idea of whats happening when is a good idea. We would advise not getting too caught up on times and places. There is so much happening that you may intend to go somewhere only to be distracted by something else! If you’re concerned about how to find the procession, don’t worry! If you’re staying in Central Antigua you will hear (drums) or smell (incense) the procession before you know it! The procession of Iglesia La Merced (La Merced Church) is perhaps, one of the more spectacular leaving the church at 9pm Thursday directly before Good Friday and finishing up at the church again on 8am on Good Friday itself.
Sure, Antigua gets a bit crazy with a sudden influx of visitors for Semana Santa but it is a festival after all. We spent 2 weeks in Antigua with some form of festivity happening almost every day. Of those 2 weeks we only really noticed a crazy amount of people for one of those days – Holy Friday. If you can’t make Antigua, Guatemala City and Quetzaltenango also host significant processions.
Semana Santa falls between March 22 and April 23 depending on when Easter falls for that particular year. Sort your accommodation and get in on the colour, festivity, devotion and craziness.