How Families Traditionally Celebrate Easter in Latin America
¡Que Dios te bendiga! is a common phrase in Latin America, especially during the Easter season. This is one of the most important times of the year for Catholic people in Latin America. In fact, according to the Vatican’s document Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae, around 285 million Catholics (17.7% of the world’s population) celebrate it. The Easter season begins on Easter Sunday and ends on Pentecost Sunday, totaling 50 days. In addition to this, there’s Lent, which refers to the 40 days previous to Easter Sunday. The entire celebration is a total blast! Today let’s go deeper into what happens during this season and learn about how families celebrate Easter in Latin America.
Semana Santa: A Very Holy Week
In Latin America, Easter week is called Semana Santa, and it’s the annual Christian commemoration of the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. For this reason, it’s a period of intense liturgical activity within the various Christian branches. Traditionally, people remember what Jesus did for humanity and how His sacrifice opened eternal life to our souls. Everything revolves around Jesus during these days; towns, squares, religious centers, and people in their homes make altars, processions, and prayers.
Semana santa includes five significant days. The first one is el domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday), in which, according to the Gospel, Jesus went back to Jerusalem after 40 days in the desert, riding a donkey. He was received by a huge crowd who proclaimed him the son of David. Then, we have Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, representing respectively the days of the last supper, Jesus’s passion, and finally his crucifixion. More specifically, the Eucharist is celebrated on Maundy Thursday, the crucifixion on Good Friday, and the vigil on Saturday. And last but not least, Easter Sunday represents the day in which Jesus resurrected. In fact, this is the most important day of the year for Catholics, even more than Christmas (the day Jesus was born). According to the Gospel, this day is when Jesus conquered death and saved us from our sins. It is a day of joy when life itself is a focus of celebration.
Food Restrictions During Easter in Latin America
During this time of the year, people can’t eat red meat or pork, especially on Fridays between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, and including Holy Week. This happens for various reasons. First, because it’s a representation of the body of Christ. Secondly, because people are in penance, fasting, and recollection. And finally, because 2,000 years ago, meat was considered a luxury product, so Christians wanted to pay tribute to the messiah through austerity, by not consuming this food.
In general, Catholics see this “sacrifice” is a way of preparing the souls and strengthening their will in order to avoid sinning, just like Jesus did when he was in the desert being tempted by the devil.
On Good Friday, the most devout people usually fast, while children are allowed to eat some bread and water. Of course, this is something that people choose to do if they want to fulfill the maximum religious requirements for this time of the year, but it’s no longer an obligation.
Now, during this season, countries eat different kinds of plates that are very special for them. For example, in Argentina, they eat Roscas de Pascua, which are like sweet dumplings with pastry cream and are very popular in the whole country. Also, they eat Empanadas de Vigilia, small patties that are filled with fish (mostly tuna) and not meat.
Guatemalans taste a variety of traditional food, drinks, and desserts during this time. Some of them are:
- Ensalada de escabeche: a salad also known as canned vegetables, it is made with cauliflower, green beans, carrots, onions, peppers, and more. You can also add some jalapeños.
- Tamalitos de viaje guatemaltecos: They are made from corn dough, and are wrapped in a tusa (cornhusk) leaf.
- Pepián: a type of soup that can be prepared with beef rib, pork, chicken, or a mixture of different meats.
- Fresco de súchiles: a traditional Easter drink, it’s characterized by its fermentation. It’s prepared with jocotes, panela, anise, cinnamon, ginger, and pineapple peel.
- Fresco de chilacayote: a drink that has chilacayote (a type of pumpkin) as the main ingredient. It’s traditional to drink it with a lot of ice.
- Molletes: pieces of sweet bread covered on top with sifted flour, simulating a snowy volcano.
- Granizadas: crashed ice with flavored dyes.
Important Religious Events
During this time, especially in semana santa, there are different events/traditions that people do to commemorate the passion, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus. The most popular are:
Religious Parades: Procesiones
The images of Christ, the Virgin, and the cross are taken out of the churches and are put on the procession. It is a pride to be able to carry them in the procession, and in the days before Easter, people rehearse how to carry it. Check out this video of the processions in Antigua, Guatemala!
Carrying the Cross: Vía Crucis
During Holy Week, people participate as a family in recreating the path taken by Jesus Christ and the mysteries of his passion. The Vía Crucis consists of walking spiritually the path that Jesus made to the Mount Calvary while carrying the cross, as well as the opportunity to internalize his suffering. This journey is made up of 14 stations that represent certain scenes of the passion, corresponding to a particular incident or the special form of devotion related to such representations. Some people make altars for each station, and others just walk while praying and stop every time it’s time to read the station. Here’s a guide for the Vía Crucis you can check out.
Also, in Colombia, there is an ancient tradition of giving jewelry as offerings in the images of Jesus, for forgiveness.
The Latin Easter Bunny
We’ve talked about the religious part of Easter in Latin America, but there are also customs for children that are pretty fun! The biggest tradition involves the Easter Bunny, in which, during Easter Sunday, parents hide chocolate eggs (mostly in big gardens) with different sizes, shapes, and colors, and kids have to find them. The kid that finds the biggest amount wins! These eggs symbolize life and are a representation of how life started again thanks to Jesus.
Join the Celebration!
As you can see, Easter and semana santa in Latin America are a very important part of the culture. If you would like to know more about traditions, customs, travel, and tips, join us at Homeschool Spanish Academy! We’d be happy to welcome you to this amazing community and also teach you more about the Spanish language in a free class. We hope to see you soon!
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