Easter, or Holy Week also known as Semana Santa in Mexico, is one of the best-known religious festivities, and most Mexicans towns celebrate it with great enthusiasm and fervor. In this country filled with so many varying traditions, there are different ways to celebrate this holiday that has origins from the Spanish Conquest: from the traditional procession in Iztapalapa to the Tewerichic in Chihuahua. No matter your religious inclination, witnessing the history of Catholicism in Mexico and the rich traditions it created is a spectacle no one can miss!
Semana Santa is one of the most important for the Catholic community, probably tied with Christmas, and begins with Palm Sunday, followed by Holy Thursday and Friday, Glory Saturday, and concluding on Easter Sunday.
During Semana Santa (Holy Week), many Mexican cities and towns hold parades, processions, and reenactments of the Passion of Christ, with participants dressed in traditional costumes and carrying religious images. Many families also observe this holiday by attending church services, preparing special meals, and decorating their homes with religious images and symbols filled with meaning.
However, the representation of the Passion of Christ is not the only way to commemorate these Catholic events. As an example of this we have the Tewerichic, a celebration in which the Rarámuri community face —together with God— evil and the devil.
What is the meaning of Semana Santa in Mexico?
For those who are not familiar with how Semana Santa is celebrated and how, Palm Sunday evokes the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, where he was received with songs and palms, which is why the tradition of using bouquets to celebrate arose. Holy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus with his apostles, and during Good Friday, representations are made in many parts of Mexico of the Via Crucis (or Way of the Cross), from when Jesus Christ is sentenced to death until the moment he is crucified and buried in the tomb. During Glory Saturday, the day between the death and resurrection of Christ, solemnity and respect are sought. Finally, on Easter Sunday, the greatest event for Christians is celebrated: the Resurrection.
In processions, nazarenos carry candles, torches, wooden crosses or more, some doit to show their faith and penance.
In many parts of the country, the drama of the Passion and Death of Christ is staged, following a general script whose characters include Jesus (alive or in image), Roman centurions, Jews and Pharisees, and the twelve apostles represented by children or young people. However, in some towns, Pilate, Mary Magdalene, the Virgin Mary, and other minor characters are also added to this part of the Holy Week story.
In various colonial cities such as Taxco, Guerrero; Queretaro; San Luis Potosí and San Cristóbal de las Casas, in Chiapas, the celebrations are very solemn, as in the Procesión del Silencio (Procession of Silence), a representative act of the Passion and Death of Christ where penitents physically submit to heavy loads, as a symbol of their self-sacrifice.
Procesión del Silencio, San Luis Potosí
Perhaps the most popular representation of the Procesión del Silencio is the one carried out in San Luis Potosí, one of the largest and most important cultural exhibitions in the state. In fact, it is considered the second-best of its kind worldwide, after the one in Seville, Spain. Additionally, it is considered as Cultural Heritage of San Luis Potosí.
The Procession of Silence tradition comes to life in the historic center of the city of San Luis Potosí and takes place every year on Good Friday. At night, around 8:00 p.m., silence takes over the Historic Center and the streets begin to smell of incense. The doors of the Templo del Carmen open to let out a group of drums that announces the start of the procession. Then, about 30 cofradías (brotherhoods) come out, each with a different color in clothing. Likewise, the hooded men whose clothing symbolizes mourning and humility appear.
The procession crosses the most emblematic streets of San Luis Potosí’s city center, starting at the Templo del Carmen, stopping by the church of San Agustín, the temple of San Francisco, the Plaza de los Fundadores. It also passes through cultural buildings of the entity such as the Teatro de la Paz and the Museo Nacional de la Máscara, finally returning to the Templo del Carmen at midnight.
Throughout the journey, the faithful and other spectators who gather to witness the procession remain silent and only the sound of drums and trumpets is heard. This stark silence and darkness that envelops the streets during the procession creates a profound sense of reverence and contemplation among those who witness it. Overall, the Procesión del Silencio is one of the most iconic and meaningful events of Semana Santa/Holy Week in Mexico, and an experience that should not be missed by those who have the opportunity to attend.
Semana Santa is one of the most vibrant and culturally-rich times to visit Mexico, where you can witness firsthand the unique customs and traditions that make this country so special. During this week-long celebration, Mexicans also take time off work and school, so typical destinations might be a little bit crowded, but it is something definitely worth it!
If you visit Mexico during Semana Santa, you'll have the opportunity to immerse yourself in the festivities and witness the country come alive with energy and excitement. Whether you're watching the Palm Sunday parade, savoring traditional foods like chiles rellenos or bacalao, or attending a solemn Good Friday procession, you'll experience the depth and beauty of Mexican culture at its finest!
Have you ever visited San Luis Potosi during Semana Santa? How about other parts that incorporate these processions? What was your favorite part of the celebration? We would love to learn all about your experience! And please, let us know what other traditions you’d like for us to write about!