This week in Guatemala, hundreds of adults and children are staying up all night or waking up early to work on street “alfombras,” in preparation for Holy Week processions.
These special alfombras, the Spanish word for “carpets,” are elaborate street decorations made of colored sawdust, flowers or flower petals, pine needles, sand, rice, or even fruits or vegetables.
Nancy Hoffman of GuatemalanReservations.com, a travel agency specializing in family travel and personalized trips to Guatemala, shared these wonderful photographs with us of the 2012 procession on Palm Sunday in Antigua, Guatemala. All photos are taken by Nancy Hoffman, and have been used with her permission. Enjoy these beautiful images of Antigua, Guatemala!
Holy Week, known in Spanish as “Semana Santa,” is the week preceding Easter. Christians around the world honor Jesus and retell the story of his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. Good Friday (in 2012 that falls on April 6th) they believe that Jesus died, and on Easter Sunday (April 8, 2012) they believe he ascended into Heaven. Around 55% of Guatemalans are Catholic, while another 40% are Protestant. This majority maintains traditions from Spain, while incorporating indigenous Mayan beliefs. Holy Week processions in Spain began in the 1500’s as a way to educate people about the resurrection of Jesus. Participation in the events offered people a chance at repentance. In Guatemala, the Mayan tradition of creating elaborate “carpets” (alfombras) of feathers and flowers for kings to walk upon, meshed with these religious processions to create a colorful tradition that has been part of Guatemalan culture ever since.
In general, the street space in front of your house is “your” space to create an alfombra. At times, neighbors will join together and collaborate on a longer alfombra, or join forces with artists to develop exquisitely detailed alfombras.Many times, people will work all night under bright lights that help illuminate their art. Layers and layers of plant material are used to create the alfombras: flowers, petals, leaves, berries, pine needles, corn husks, and grasses can be seen here:Kids are invited participate with their families in this time-consuming art:
Some of the alfombras extend city blocks. Traffic is blocked, and the crowds of on-lookers are respectful of the delicate designs. Notice the vibrant colors: this aserrín, sawdust, is dyed brilliant colors, sold in markets in the preceding weeks, and is commonly used in the designs. Flower petals are also popular.
Stencils are sometimes used to refine the colored sawdust.
Once the alfombras are beautifully set up and laid out, the processions begin. Large figures and statues of Jesus and Mary are carried through the city in a solemn procession as the audience reflects on the deep meaning.
Women dressed in black (dolorosas) represent mourners, grieving the death of Jesus. The floats can weigh up to 7,000 pounds each, and require 40-140 people to carry them.
Originally, people who wanted to do penance for their sins would walk in the procession and be publicly humiliated. Now people can choose to represent these penitentes by joining in formation.
After all of the hours of hard work, the incredible alfombras are smeared by the procession. People gather what fruit and vegetables remain (especially right as the floats pass them while the food is still mostly intact), and the streets are quickly cleaned up by street crews. Although the designs do not last, the pride and honor continues and families begin to plan for next year’s designs.
Here are some final photos of the clean-up:
Thank you so much Nancy Hoffman for sharing this experience with us! It is almost as good as being there:). Hopefully one day I can travel with you to Antigua to see these amazing alfombras in person.