The Latin world celebrates Easter like no other culture, and Mexico is no exception. During the week leading up to Easter each year, Semana Santa (or Holy Week) is observed throughout our devoutly Catholic country. From delicious food and gloriously colorful processions to the Passion Play performed by every member of a town and silent public displays of penitence, every corner of Mexico has its own unique way to mark this special week.
Tours Peregrinos Mexico invite you to join us in observing the second most celebrated Catholic holiday of the year by visiting our incredible country on a sacred pilgrimage to experience these exceptional celebrations in honor of the crucifixion and the resurrection in person. What can you expect? Find out below…
From Chetumal to Chihuahua, you’ll find beautifully decorated altars in churches and homes throughout the country. Palm crosses and magnificent flower arrangements fill the streets, with a beautiful attention to detail and tradition intrinsic to Mexican Catholic culture.
Easter is a two-week nationwide vacation here. Families take time away from the daily grind and come together to worship and commemorate Holy Week with their communities. Schools and businesses close, abuelitas (grandmothers) cook delicious meals for their families, and special ceremonies take place in churches and cathedrals across the country. Most celebrations are held outside, giving a wonderful community feel and meaning that visitors to Mexico can witness so much more – including a fantastic array of antojitos (street food)! Most Mexicans refrain from eating meat during the season of Lent, so it’s a wonderful opportunity to try delicious fish or vegetarian dishes such as shrimp patties, nopales and fish soup. If you’ve a sweet tooth, you’re in good company here; discover mouth-watering fried plantains with sweet cream toppings, fruit turnovers, and marmalade-topped hotcakes, to name just a few of our favorite Easter treats.
While the second week of Easter, after Easter Sunday, is a time for celebration and vacation, Semana Santa takes place during the last week of Lent and is a more solemn occasion. Beginning with Palm Sunday, you’ll find processions reenacting Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem. The whole community will be out and about to take part, with woven palms and other religious items made by local artisans sold outside churches.
The Wednesday before Easter holds Los Matines de la Tinieblas (the Vespers of Darkness), a special mass to mark the disciples’ abandonment of Jesus. The disciples are represented by candles placed on church or cathedral altar, extinguished one by one until only a solitary candle, representing Jesus, remains alight.
Semana Santa continues with Jueves Santo (Maundy Thursday), when families from many Mexican states will make special visits to seven different churches in honor of the Apostles’ garden vigil over Jesus’ prayers before his arrest. Foot-washing ceremonies are also common on Jueves Santo, together with special Holy Communions held in local churches and cathedrals.
Good Friday is a somber occasion. Throughout the day, Passion Plays are staged; each Mexican community works tirelessly for months leading up to these auspicious events, making sure that everybody is involved in creating a truly beautiful reenactment. Being chosen to act in a Passion Play is an enormous honor and one that’s taken very seriously. Real thorn crowns are worn by those honored to portray Jesus and extremely heavy crosses are born across long stretches of street towards the communities’ churches.
Good Friday ends with Procesións del Silencio (silent processions) in regions including Pátzcuaro, San Luis Potosí, Iztapalapa, Chiapas, Taxco, and Aguascalientes. Participants in these evening vigils dress in traditional costume, carrying statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary, along with candles or torches, towards church. Iztapalapa’s procession is particularly well-attended, attracting over a million visitors to the small town near Mexico City each year. While most Procesións del Silencio stem from Middle Age traditions, Iztapalapa’s procession has its origins in the 1800s as an awareness-raising event for those who’d suffered through a devastating cholera epidemic.
Mexican Catholic traditions for Sabado de Gloria (Easter Saturday) are somewhat dramatic, with festivities in many regions including the burning of paper mache or cardboard effigies of Judas. Sometimes there are firecrackers, sometimes the Judas effigy is made up to look like Satan – and sometimes it’s even made to look like a disliked politician! While it’s a day of mourning, with many communities dressing in black and swathing statues of the Virgin Mary in mourning dress, the day is always underlined by a feeling of community and togetherness.
After a week of such intense rituals, ceremonies and celebrations, it may be a surprise to hear that Domingo de Pascua (Easter Sunday) is actually a much quieter affair in Mexico. Families attend mass together and enjoy each other’s company over a traditional meal. That’s not to say that the country is in silence – that’s rarely the case here in jubilant Mexico! Some communities enjoy Domingo de Pascua processions with dancing and music, and families are looking forward to their beach vacations the coming week, but visitors won’t find an Easter Egg in sight.
If you’d like to experience the vivid traditional Mexican Catholic culture for yourself, why not consider a pilgrimage to our beautiful country during Semana Santa? We look forward to welcoming you soon.