"We are hard pressed on everyside, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed."

2 Corinthians 4:8-9

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Semana Santa

Holy week in Guatemala (and Central America in general) is a completely different experience than in the US. I think of easter baskets, egg coloring, and getting together with the family for lunch as my Easter tradition. Down here, this is the biggest holiday of the year. Nearly 80% of Guatemala city disappears- going to Antigua, the beaches, and staying with family in their hometowns.
Early in the week, Santiago started making preparations. They created pine covered trellises to line all the streets that the procession would follow. The mayan diety (or Catholic Saint depending on who you ask) Maximon, had a small parade on Wednesday, making a stop at the Municipal building before being 'hung' in his small chapel on the Catholic church plaza. Some say he represents Judas, hanging himself in shame of betraying Jesus. For others, this is his punishment for all the bad things he's done this year. Unlike other saints, people visit Maximon to curse other people in addition to the health and prosperity requests.

We went to Antigua with some friends and saw the incredible alfombras, artistic 'carpets' made out of colored sawdust, flowers, pine needles, and other natural items. There are so many processions in Antigua that these carpets are constantly being created, destroyed by the marching crowds, cleaned up and recreated.

The alfombras in Santiago didn't have as many flowers, pine needles, etc- but they made up for it in the sheer quantity created.

Elaborate processions with LARGE floats are carried from the church, around town, and back into the church. In Santiago the men wore their traditional garb, but in Antigua the streets were packed with men in purple.

The processions included reenactments, music, LOTS of incense, and the floats, which can weigh up to 3 tons. These guys carried the floats literally 50 blocks or more, switching off periodically. It caused us to reflect on how much we jump straight to the Resurrection, with it's chocolate, marshmallow bunnies and pretty pastel colors, glossing over the suffering, lamenting, and pain of the crucifixion. On the other hand, Easter Sunday felt really anti-climatic; people were mostly just traveling back from vacations, trying to get ready for work the next day. I think both cultures could stand to learn a little from each other about the meaning of this Holy Week.

We went to Casa Horeb, a Mennonite church in Guatemala city for Easter Sunday. The service started at 6AM and had a lot of special music, singing, and a sermon that was probably pretty good. (It's hard to listen and understand Spanish when you're so tired!) We did miss singing familiar songs- I couldn't get "Up from the grave he arose (he arose)" out of my head all morning. Instead of Easter Breads before the service, we had tamales afterwords, and didn't get back to the Mennonite guest house until 10:45. We had a chance to Skype with Jared's ENTIRE extended family that were all gathered together, and with Traci's family as well. It was a lot of fun to catch up, but made us homesick as well.

I know we always say this, but we plan to update the blog again soon. . .

I especially loved this alfombra, located inside one of the Catholic churches in Antigua that used mangoes, corn, peppers, carrots, watermelons and bottles of honey as part of the decor.


ben wideman said...

That is super cool you two. Looks like a very fascinating place to be during Easter!

carrie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
carrie said...

I agree about the starke differences in the focus of Easter...I remember thinking about it a lot during Semana Santa on Cross Cultural...I think it's that we (N. Americans) don't really identify with the suffering of Christ...Latin America does, because of a volatile history. They identify with the Christ who suffered. We, with the Christ who won.

I am always struck by the alfombras - a sacrifice of sorts, spending all that time & effort creating these beautiful, elaborate carpets, only to have them trampled by the parade...and the effort, the burden of carrying those floats. I think spending time engulfed in the suffering makes the resurrection more meaningful.

Somehow that gets lost in the North American Easter bunny culture! (I could go on about the ridiculous Easter Egg hunt one local church had - all I've heard about at school this week - not sure where Christ comes in when a helicopter is dropping flipflops and ipods.)

Thanks for the good depiction of Semana Santa in Guate. Something every Christian should witness, in my opinion! Hope you continue to enjoy Guate...makes me miss it!