Holy Week Batman!

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Flag of Guatemala  ,
Sunday, April 4, 2010

Semana Santa.  Hold the Claus.
Semana Santa translates as Holy Week, and boy was it.  Guatemala is a very strong Catholic society.    Our host family were extremely devout and during the week they had activities galore which kept them busy and meant we had to eat out a lot.  Thank you Jesus, for the travelers diarrhea.  We both managed to get pretty sick from something we ate during this week.  When all of our host family, and their extended family, and friends of our host family, and friends of our host family’s extended family came to stay with us.  And we all shared one bathroom.  Which is conveniently located in the middle of the courtyard.  Right next to the shower, and where you wash dishes and clothes.  The acoustics in the Shower/Bathroom are such that if you decide to whisper the Don McLean classic “American Pie”, the entire neighborhood will join you during the chorus.  So, multiple times a day wa got to perform what we like to refer to as our “2nd Symphony” for the entire neighborhood to hear.  As uncomfortable as that was, it played second fiddle to how we felt all week when you couldn’t walk down the street without witnessing some roman soldiers whipping a bleeding Jesus in the street.
A big part of Semana Santa, starting on Holy Thursday and then ending on Easter Sunday, are giant processions, or parades, of important catholic imagery.  From the crucifixion of Jesus to his resurrection, and everything in-between.  
The “Images” are behemoths that require legions of worshipers to carry throughout the city, generally from one church in the center of town, to another satellite church on the outside of the city center.  Carry the images is meant to be a penitence for the people carrying it.  Its heavy and uncomfortable and extremely difficult to negotiate some of the narrow streets.  The people of the city spend the night before the parade creating elaborate “alfombras” or carpets, for the parade to walk over.  The alfombras are elaborate pictures made of various shades of dyed sawdust.  These alfombras are incredible works of art, themselves depicting various images from the bible and the crucifixion.  I’m not completely sure, and like everything else in Central America the story changes depending on who you ask, but I think this tradition started when local carpenters layed sawdust down on the streets for the parades to walk over.  The sawdust fills in the gaps in the cobblestone streets and makes it softer for the feet of the people carrying these tremendous images.
Overall it was a little out of our league not being catholic and all, the entire country of Guatemala shows up for these processions, but I did find this a little disheartening to watch: a parade of Roman Soldiers ‘whipping and beating’ Jesus while he is dragging a giant wooden cross.  A parade of men and women leading and trailing the pack, wailing and crying, Veronica on her knees holding the Shroud of Turin, and then behind the whole procession is an army of vendors selling everything from ice cream to those foam rubber lizards on a metal leash.  It just seemed to cheapen the whole thing and reduce it down to a low rent Disneyworld Electric Light Parade.
All in all we remained respectful of their traditions and tried our best to stay out of the way when we could and nod in approval when we though it was appropriate.  We felt kind of special when our host family included us in their Easter dinner.  Of everything we saw and did in Guatemala I think we will miss our host family the most.

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