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The Meaning of Semana Santa in Mexico

Las Cruces in Baja Sur, Mexico
Credit: Jone Bott

Hola a todos, hello to everyone. First of all, Maria and I want to send you our best wishes in these hard times. We really hope you, your friends and family are well and safe. Given the worries about this global pandemic, we thought we would bring you this week the meaning of Semana Santa in Mexico.

Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is better known in the United States as Easter week. It falls right after the end of Catholic Lent and the culmination of the passion of Christ. This year, Lent began on February 26th with Ash Wednesday. On this day, all Catholics go to church and they are marked with an ash cross on their forehead. Lent is a period of 40 days, representing the hard test that Jesus went through when he stayed for 40 days in the Judean desert, prior to his public mission. It also symbolize the 40 days that the universal flood lasted, in addition to the 40 years of the Israelite people’s march through the desert, and the 40 decades that the slavery of the Jews in Egypt lasted.

These 40 days are also to prepare us for the great feast of Easter. It is time to repent our sins and change something of ourselves to be better and to be able to live closer to Christ.

The Sunday before Semana Santa is called Palm Sunday or Domingo de Ramos. Palm Sunday is the event that marks the end of Lent and the beginning of Easter, and on this Sunday, we celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his claim as the son of God.

Domingo de Ramos should be seen by Catholics and Christians as the time to proclaim Jesus as the cornerstone of their lives, just as the people of Jerusalem did when they received and hailed him as a prophet, Son of God and king.

An interesting fact is that the ashes used in Ash Wednesday, come from the burning of the palms of the previous year’s Palm Sunday.

Semana Santa is the commemoration of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the most important event for the Catholic community and begins right after Palm Sunday, continues with Holy Thursday and Holy Friday, followed by Saturday of Glory and ends on Easter Sunday, or in Spanish: Jueves Santo, Viernes Santo, Sábado de Gloria y Domingo de Resurección.

On Jueves Santo we remember how Jesus was taken from one governor to another one, asking for a sentence until he finally met Pontius Pilate. Nowadays, we go from one church to another one until we visit seven different churches. This excursion is called Las Visitas de las Siete Casas, or translated: The Visit of the seven houses. On this day, we also remember the Last Supper when Jesus washed the feet of the 12 apostles before his Last Supper. On Holy Thursday, countless processions wind through Mexican streets and churches decorate their altars with flowers, fruits, flags and candles. Some people also start to fast and others stop consuming red meat.

The next day is Viernes Santos, or Holy Friday. This day, the Viacrucis, or The Way of the Cross, is remembered, and in many places, this passage from the life of Jesus is staged. The town called Iztapalapa, located in Mexico City, is very well-known for doing the representation of the Viacrusis as real as Jesus Christ went through. We must say that it is quite hard to watch because the whiplashes, the crown of thorns and the crucifixion are very real! The custom of not consuming red meat is also respected.

Then, on Sábado de Gloria, or Holy Saturday, we have the celebration of The New Fire at night. This is done in a small procession carrying a representative light that people accompany with prayers until they reach the church that is only lighted by candles. There are many churches in Mexico that follow this fascinating tradition.

The last day of Semana Santa is Resurrection Sunday, or Domingo de Resurección. Easter is a very popular holiday in Mexico. On this day, people from many places burn paper dolls representing Judas, the apostle who betrayed Jesus. This tradition became so popular that now there are all kinds of dolls, not only Judas, but also famous public persons repudiated by the people. They are also burned next to the Judas doll.

We wish you a Happy Easter. Stay safe!


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