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Wednesday, April 17, 2019
Semana Santa: Traditions Bringing Families Together
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Writing and photography by Emma Pion-Berlin, Content Creator

Women walk during a procession on Viernes Santo or Good Friday a couple years ago in Panajachel (Photo by Edin Rosales).

Semana Santa, or Holy Week, as known around the world is a sacred time of the year in Guatemala. This holiday is marked with many historical and religious traditions, as Catholicism and Maya traditions come together. The entire celebration begins right after Ash Wednesday and lasts for 40 days. Sacred, religious events are staged during this week.

One of the essential parts of Semana Santa are the processions. Attracting hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans, during the parades, they reflect and reenact different religious traditions. Purple-clad cucuruchos, or float-bearers, lead the marches. Edin Rosales, a member of our team here at Mayan Families, is heavily involved in Semana Santa and dedicates much of his time to his religious practices and cultural traditions during this week.

“My friends and I are in a group within the church where we decorate the floats for the procession every Friday.  Each decoration has a biblical meaning that transmits a message to the people.”

Rosales smiles in front of a float in the Catholic Church, similar to the ones him and his friends decorate for the processions. 

As one follows the crowd of the procession, sounds of the Marchas Funebres fill the streets.  Marchas Funebres are bands dedicated to the processions. They play a specific musical genre during Holy Week, that is exclusive to Guatemala.

“The processions follow a series of 14 stations of the cross,” explains Rosales. “The float stops in specific spots during the path of the procession, where parishioners reflect on the events of Good Friday. Families decorate the different stations passed down by legacy here in Panajachel. If a family decides not to decorate, then the church will decide on a new family, but the church has not had to do that yet. No family has wanted to stop the legacy.”

For the past five years, Edin has helped a man decorate the patio of the Catholic Church with symbols of swords and spears, in Panajachel for Jueves Santo (Maundy Thursday).

Rosales poses outside the Catholic Church in Panajachel, a place that is of great importance to him. 

“I started to help this man decorate the patio because I enjoy helping others. Also while I think about my health, my family and prospering, I like to dedicate some time to thank God and be grateful for the blessings that I have received,” said Rosales.

Although there are many more traditions of Semana Santa, such as the creation of alfombras, know as sawdust carpets, the assembly of fruit and vegetable arcs and more, for Rosales the tradition that falls closest to his heart is the food.

“Everyone in my family will all sit at the table and eat pan de yemas and talk about our days, what happened, what our plans are for the next day. It’s a special time for us.”

The sun shines throughout the market in Panajachel that is jam packed with vendors selling special food for Semana Santa. Food brings people together and during Semana Santa unique dishes are cooked and shared amongst friends and family. Some of the common types of food eaten are dried fish, chile rellenos and pan de yemas (Semana Santa bread). Additionally, to accompany this food, many people drink traditional Guatemalan hot chocolate or pinol. Pinol is a tea type of drink made of dried seeds. However the pan de yemas, the bread of Semana Santa, is especially important because “everyone in Guatemala will be eating the Semana Santa bread at the same time during this week,” said Rosales.

The food is distinctive and memorable to Rosales because it is a time for him to learn about traditional recipes that have been passed down and a wonderful opportunity for him to be with his family.

“I like to help my mother cook. I had to learn since I was the first child, and my sisters also help to make the process faster and for us to all be together. I love to taste the tradition in the food we make together.”


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