Easter in Guatemala sees three public holidays observed each year on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Easter traditions in Guatemala are similar to other predominantly Roman Catholic countries, however there are some unique events too.
|2020||9 Apr||Thu||Maundy Thursday|
|10 Apr||Fri||Good Friday|
|11 Apr||Sat||Easter Saturday|
|2021||1 Apr||Thu||Maundy Thursday|
|2 Apr||Fri||Good Friday|
|3 Apr||Sat||Easter Saturday|
|2022||14 Apr||Thu||Maundy Thursday|
|15 Apr||Fri||Good Friday|
|16 Apr||Sat||Easter Saturday|
An odd prelude to the Easter season in Guatemala occurs on the Friday before Good Friday, which is known as “la Huelga de Dolores” (the Strike of Sorrows). On this day, thousands of university students take to the streets of Guatemala City, donning red and black “executioner’s hoods.” They proceed to poke fun at unpopular politicians, and some even “ritually beat” purse snatchers and pickpockets or block traffic in the hopes of getting a “donation.” This unusual tradition began in 1898 as a student strike protest against the corrupt dictator Manuel Estrada.
Easter celebrations begin on Palm Sunday and run till Easter Sunday. The most intense part of the festivities runs from Wednesday till Sunday, during which time businesses and schools close down to allow the people a break and a chance to enjoy the celebrations.
On Palm Sunday, the streets are full of people carrying branches of the palm tree to commemorate the strewing of such palm branches in Christ’s path as he entered Jerusalem a week before his Resurrection. Roman Catholic, and some other churches, have priests bless these branches during special services.
On Maundy Thursday, when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper, Catholic churches reenact the event with foot-washing services. A prestigious priest stoops down to wash the feet of 12 commoners, the priest representing Jesus and the worshippers being the 12 disciples.
From the Monday after Palm Sunday until Maundy Thursday, numerous festive processions take place throughout the country, but the biggest by far takes place on Good Friday in Antigua. A large, wooden float with a statue of Jesus on top is carried through the streets by dozens of men. Many dress up as Roman soldiers, Pilate, Herod, the High Priest, the disciples, or other characters from the Biblical narrative. There is a reenacted trial of Jesus, incense heavy in the air, mourners who follow and do penance, and loud music. Some of the floats have been in use since the 1500’s, and the procession lasts a full eight hours.
During the Antigua Good Friday procession, the streets are decorated with large “rugs,” that are sometimes actual rugs but are other times made of dyed sawdust, pine needles, fruits, leaves, flowers, and other natural products. These other objects are patterned just like a rug or a carpet, and the crowds walk on top of it during the procession.
After the floats arrive at a local Catholic church, late at night, the celebrations end. The streets are cleaned up soon after the floats pass over them, in order to ready the town for the Virgin Mary of Sorrow procession on Holy Saturday. This time, women carry the float, and a statue of Mary is on top. Women dress in their best attire, and children walk underneath the float of Mary as it moves through the street.
On Easter Sunday, the mourning turns into joy. There are celebrations all over the country all day long. Families gather for Easter dinner and eat such special Easter foods as curtido, a diced veggie mix doused in a sour vinegar sauce, sweets made of pumpkin or chickpeas, and fish wrapped in an egg.