Semana Santa and Easter in rural Mexico

Semana Santa and Easter in rural Mexico

- processions, water fights and prawn cakes

I’m back from my Easter break with my husband’s family and as promised, I will tell you about my first Easter in a Mexican village. The Holy Week (Semana Santa) begins on Palm Sunday (Domingo de Ramos) and ends on Easter Sunday (Domingo de Pascua) one week later. Instead of Easter bunnies and coloured eggs, Mexican Easter is dominated by large processions, splashing water and special Easter dishes.

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To my surprise, Easter Monday is not a holiday here, and even Easter Sunday is not very important. In Mexico, the most important days around Easter are Good Friday (Viernes Santo) and Holy Saturday (Sabado de Gloria). No-one was able to tell me why the day is called Sabado de Gloria, when according to Christian beliefs, the glorious event of the resurrection of Jesus Christ only took place on Easter Sunday. Even my mother in law, who sees herself as a devout Christian and believes in the power of blessed pendants and prayers to fend off demons, did not attend Easter Sunday service. However, she would never have missed the Good Friday procession.

The Good Friday procession is the most important part of Semana Santa

Villagers gather together to simulate Jesus’ walk to the cross

In different parts of Mexico, there are different styles to hold the Good Friday procession commemorating the crucifixion of Christ. The most famous processions take place in Iztapalapa, on the southern edge of Mexico City. Allegedly, the actors representing Jesus and the two others crucified with him are actually nailed to the cross in the re-enactment. I haven’t seen it, so I can’t tell you if that is true. In other areas, such as Taxco, believers still castigate themselves with thorny sticks on the procession.

In my husband’s village in Guerrero, traditions are a lot more moderate. That being said, walking for hours under the burning sun and re-enacting the crucifixion in the shadow-less mid-day heat is also a kind of sacrifice. While the procession itself was rather solemn, although not as dark and sad as what I had seen in Madrid, the crucifixion at the culmination of the procession turned more into village festivities.

There were huge tents put up on the village playing fields to shadow the spectators – not the actors – and around it, vendors had put up their little food stalls with tacos, sweet drinks, ice cream and even beer. People were chatting with neighbours, eating and drinking as hardly anyone really paid attention to the re-enactment. One of the highlights was the sale of colourful pieces of string allegedly blessed by the statues that the procession had carried.

Tortas de camarón is the traditional Good Friday dish

Every village has its own Good Friday procession

In the afternoon, the families got together for the traditional Good Friday meal of tortas de camaron, small salty cakes made with egg, cheese and dried prawn, bathed in a mole from toasted red chilies and tomatoes. While my husband had been raving about this traditional Easter dish for quite some time, I did not particularly warm to the taste of dried prawn. I preferred the truly vegetarian bean soup my mother in law made as another traditional lent dish. The more devout of the villagers later gathered in the local church for a nocturnal vigil mass which lasted for several hours in the candle-lit church.

Sabado de Gloria is all about water

While Good Friday is rather serious, Sabado de Gloria is more fun. Although according to the bible, it is not the day of resurrection yet, and strictly speaking, eating meat still is considered a sin, Sabado de Gloria was a day of celebration. According to Mexican tradition, people have to splash water on themselves that day. In the village, most people go to the river or a swimming pool. Since the river nowadays hardly carries any water around that time of the year, filling your buckets and having a water fight with the family at home also is a popular option. We had a lovely picnic on the family land, between the mango trees, and used the water from the well there to splash it on each other.

Easter Jaripeo in the village next door

Traditionally, the next bigger village also hosts a jaripeo, a Mexican rodeo, on Sabado de Gloria. People from all the surrounding villages gather around the ring to eat, drink and watch youngsters being thrown off bulls. It’s one of the major events in the area. On Easter Sunday, only the most devour attend mass once again to commemorate the resurrection of Christ. For most of the villagers, it’s just another Sunday, which means market day in the bigger village and back to work for many.

Do any of those traditions resonate with you? How does your family celebrate Easter (if at all)?

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