I miss a lot of things about Guatemala. I miss the language, the culture, the food, the smell of smog (really, I do), my grandmother and my friend Isabel, traveling through the countryside, walking everywhere, my green and brown school uniform….you get the point. And holidays. Holidays in Guatemala have so much more intensity than holidays in the U.S. Specifically, Christmas and Easter. As of 2006, 50-60% of the population in Guatemala was Catholic. With an increase in Protestant churches, this number might be a little lower now. But still, there is a huge Catholic population in Guatemala, and the ferver in the celebration of these holidays is something to behold, whether you’re a believer or not.
This week is Holy Week, which means that most people in Guatemala have a week long vacation. Yeah, kind of like Spring Break…but everyone has it on the same week because it’s accommodating a religious holiday, not a school schedule :) And although some people use the time off to hit the beach and relax with the family, there are still many people that use it to attend the processions that are organized throughout Holy Week. Each day, different processions are had throughout the country that commemorate the last days of the life of Jesus Christ. I’ve admired these processions since the first time my grandmother took me to see one when I was little.
A few things about these processions.
A lot of preparation goes into them. And a lot of preparation goes into making the carpets over which the procession will pass. Each town or city prepares the streets through which the procession will pass by decorating walls and doors, and making detailed and intricate carpets out of vibrantly colored sawdust. I remember having to wake up super early to work on these when I was little. But it was so exciting!
As you can see in the pictures, the carpets are surrounded by fresh pine needles. That, combined with the smell of incense, are the smells of Easter! In Guatemala, at least…
Other things: hooded men. That’s never a bad idea, right? I think my grandma told me where this tradition started…but my memory is lacking. I saw a couple videos from processions this year, and I was actually bummed to see a switch from the purple traditional robes to suits. And that is why you….lose traditions (I was tempted to incorporate “and that’s why you don’t use a one armed person to scare someone”). Music. The procession is followed by a full band. The music is usually somber, appropriate given the circumstances. There’s something so sorrowful and moving about this music.
Finally, and maybe most impressive: the people. The people that trek from all over the city and country to watch these processions, and the people who chose to carry the floats in the procession. Women carry the float of the Virgin Mary and other female saints that may follow behind the main float, and men carry Jesus and other male saints. Each of the floats that comprise the procession usually weigh several thousand pounds, and require 50-100 people to carry it. If my years of Catholic schooling in Guatemala serve me correctly, the pain of carrying this weight is supposed to symbolize the pain of Jesus carrying the cross. If you need some suspense in your life: watch people trying to get one of these floats in or out of a church, or trying to turn a corner!
So, my point is, I want to go to there. I’m hoping that next year, around this time, Jeff and I will be in a position where we can go to Guatemala for Easter. Then I can post videos of my own!