When we were planning for this trip, I had hoped that we would be in Antigua for Semana Santa, the holy week before Easter (but was sure we would be much farther south…..HA!). Antigua is pretty famous for its celebration. However, it ended up we were at Lake Atilan instead. The good news is that while we were in Acul, we had met some Guatemalan tour guides that told us that they actually preferred the Semana Santa processions around the lake in the Mayan villages to Antigua, which is they said is turning a bit into a tourist show.
The highlight of holy week for me (and most gringos who are not going to the church services) was the stunning alfombras or carpets that the Tz’utujil villagers spent all day and all night working on for the processions. These carpets were made of dyed sawdust or all organic matter such as flowers and vegetables. Each carpet was created by a group of people who planned for months the designs and layouts. There was so much pride around the carpets and somber devotion with the processions, it was really inspiring to witness. Easter here is not about candy or pastel bunnies or egg hunts, it is mourning the crucification of Jesus and celebrating his resurrection. I am not a religious person, but I was deeply moved by what I saw here and felt really lucky to be part of it.
So here are my favorite (of about 300 plus pictures) of Semana Santa. I was alone for the first procession in San Pedro (Sam was in Spanish class). Sam and friends joined us for the night procession in Santa Cruz.
San Pedro La Laguna
This was the first carpet I saw as I walked up into town, I was blown away. It was almost all flower petals.
I loved seeing all the Maya villagers dressed in their beautiful hand woven clothes.
I liked the carpets that had a modern spin. How did they dream this up?
We found out that many of the carpets and decorations were made from the long corn husk object in the middle that the Mayan believe is representative of one of their pre-Catholic Gods. A nice blending of religions.
I loved all the devote older women who waited with small alters at the end of some of the carpets waiting for the procession.
You can hear the music before you can even see the first procession. You can see it in the distance coming.
And then you smell the incense, it smells like frankincense or amber.
The music was somber and really haunting. It kept the cadence of the people walking with the heavy alters.
The boys alter piece looked so heavy, even all the teenagers looked pained to be carrying it, but that suffering is part of the ritual. Smokey with incense.
As soon as the procession went by they started cleaning, even though there was still hours left of carpets to walk over. So much work and it was gone so quickly.
I am not sure what these boys are going to do with bags of colored sawdust. I wished I asked them.
Santa Cruz de Atilan
Since Sam missed the first processions, we decided to take a tuk tuk over to Santa Cruz to watch the night processions. We heard that Santa Cruz is trying to surpass Antigua with the beauty and detail of their carpets. Since the cobblestones lie very flat here, they were able to have an incredible amount of detail to their alfombras. We were there early enough that we got to watch them make the carpets for hours before the processions.
So much detail and in 3D with eggs!
The detail here was unbelievable. The basket is honeysuckle petals.
We loved the ones done by the teenage boys. Modern street art Jesus. That is all sawdust, no paint.
Building the carpets.
Our friends and travel companions Sarah and Hani who we first met in Alaska.
Toby and Chloe who we met in San Francisco were also here, we had so much fun together this week.
These older men on the left were so happy with their creation. They told us all about their committee.
One of my favorite part of the night processions was the massive Honda generator they carried to light up the alters (we were all curious how they would light them up). Everyone was holding the huge extension cord like a rope.
The big float with the lit up water. This one was part 3rd grade craft project, part electrical engineering genius (we looked under the float, the wires were nuts).
I will never forget this day.