Throughout Holy Week, the city of Antigua is bustling with thousands of tourists, arriving to witness a spectacular display. Suzanne Potter and Kate Moreno of Latin Link Guatemala explain:
“Antigua is a stunning city of fine colonial architecture and, in the weeks running up to Easter, its cobbled streets gradually become breath-taking demonstrations of vibrant colour and creativity, as groups of residents and businesses in each road club together to create carpets of flowers (alfombras de flores).
“Made of dyed sawdust and sometimes decorated with flowers, vegetables, or fruit, most have religious images, others geometrical patterns; all are intricate and take ages to create. Streets are often closed to traffic and there’s a real party atmosphere.”
Palm Sunday Parade
“Despite the cost, hard work and preparation, these carpets aren’t just designed to be looked at. Throughout Lent, and especially on Palm Sunday, many huge processions take to the streets, carrying large ‘floats’ depicting various stages of the Easter story. And they will walk right over these beautiful creations!
“Some floats can be enormous and heavy and require up to 100 people to carry them. Others may be smaller – like one depicting Mary, carried by women, some traversing the cobbles in stilettos, clutching handbags.
“As the parades pass, along with crowds of people and marching bands, the beautiful, delicately-made arrangements are trampled to pieces and ruined.”
The practice originated with Mayans who made the carpets to welcome the spirits and then processed over the carpets to dispel the evil spirits. When the Catholic Spanish arrived, the practice continued, but the images changed.
What does it mean
“For a Christian, Easter in Guatemala can be a strange experience. Some people find these processions very moving; visual reminders of
Jesus´ work on the cross. On the other hand, it has become for many a cultural experience, rather than an expression of faith.
“Protestant Christians in Guatemala tend to stay away from the processions, and view them as an expression of the idolatry of the Catholic Church. However this aversion can go so far that many Protestant churches don´t even mention Easter, to avoid any possible confusion with the Catholic celebrations!
Meanwhile, others take the opportunity of the season to put on huge evangelistic events.
“For me, the preparation of the carpets is the most poignant aspect, and makes me think of how palms were laid in preparation for Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem. Regardless of your religious view of the processions, they are fascinating to watch and are a key cultural event in Guatemala.”