We happened to be in Guatemala on Good Friday, one of the most important days of the year in this country. We were able to organize a crew tour to watch the procession in Antigua. Easter week (Semana Santa in Spanish) is by far the most colorful and fascinating time in Antigua, Guatemala. Thousands and thousands of visitors from near and far come to Antigua each year to watch the processions and other religious festivities, which are among the most spectacular in the entire western hemisphere.
The centerpiece of each procession is a large wooden float depicting a scene from the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ. The floats, which are carried through the streets of Antigua for up to eight hours, are lavishly decorated and weigh several thousand pounds. The largest floats require 80 carriers, who are replaced every 10-15 minutes. Thus, more than 2,500 carriers are needed for some processions! There is no shortage of carriers, however, as it is considered an honor to participate in the processions.
Residents along the route of the processions often create elaborate carpets of pine needles, flowers and colored sawdust in the street for the processions to walk over. This tradition dates back to the 16th century and was meant to ease walking on the uneven cobblestone streets. Antigua Guatemala is one of very few places in Latin America where this tradition is still alive.
While great care is taken not to disturb the designs before the procession arrives, the carriers of the floats walk right over them and destroy these works of art after only a few minutes — until they are recreated for another procession the following year.
Bert van Mackelenbergh is Statendam’s hotel manager.