The lovely colonial city of Antigua, Guatemala is where we spend most of our Holy Week tour each year. Streets are cobble-stoned, houses painted pastel colors, churches on every corner. During the Lenten season, so much more is going on, including creating gorgeous carpets, or alfombras, on the streets. The alfombras are made from flower petals, dyed sand or sawdust, and some are so intricate they resemble oriental rugs. And as beautiful as they are, they last but a day. Each Sunday in Lent, a procession takes place in Antigua, sponsored by one of the churches.
The difference between a procession and a parade is that a parade has float after float, lots of bands, cars with officials, and more. A procession in Antigua usually consists of one or two floats, each decorated with a Christ figure or the Virgin Mary, and the platform, or anda, can weigh up to 5 tons and is carried on the backs of parishioners, known as cargadores or carriers. And they walk over the carpets, immediately destroying it. They are followed by a band playing funeral music.
Sounds crazy but it is the most colorful celebration in the new world and has been in practice in Guatemala for over 500 years. Today it is the largest such celebration, having surpassed processions in Seville, Spain, where this tradition is said to have originated. In the old country, the only ones allowed to ‘carry’ must inherit their position, whereas in Guatemala, anyone can pay a small fee, purchase a purple robe, and participate.
It’s a spectacle and always amazes me, though I’ve seen it now 6 or 7 times. I invite you to join the festivities on our annual Semana Santa (Holy Week) tour next April 9-16.
Here is a great blog about Antigua, to whet your appetite. Oh – did I mention, we also take a cooking class in Antigua!