Monday, March 29, 2010
Celebrating Easter, 'Pascua de Resurrección,' in Mexico
By Allan Wall
The crucifixion, burial and resurrection
of Jesus Christ are foundational to the Christian faith. That’s why the
major branches of Christendom (Roman Catholic, Protestant and the Eastern Churches) memorialize – in various ways –
the death, burial and resurrection of Christ each spring.
The Spanish term for Easter is
La Pascua. Mexico has a variety of traditional Pascua customs. Many of these customs are from Spain, with a diversity of traditions linked to particular Mexican regions
The Easter season begins on Miércoles
de Ceniza (Ash Wednesday) and continues through Cuaresma (Lent), the 40-day period until Semana Santa (Holy Week).
In Mexico, there are certain
foods associated with Cuaresma, some of which developed as a result of Catholic dietary rules.
Since red meat was prohibited on certain days, fish-based dishes became popular Lenten foods. Mexican grocery stores do a brisk business selling fish during Cuaresma.
Ironically, Catholics were forbidden to eat red meat on certain days as a sacrifice, yet the rules promoted the development
of fish-based dishes just as elaborate, if not more so, than the red-meat based dishes they replaced.
The nopal cactus is a popular
Mexican Lenten food. So is the dessert known as capirotada.
Semana Santa (Holy Week) begins on Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday), the day of Christ’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. The Last Supper was held on Jueves Santo (Maundy Thursday). Viernes Santo (Good Friday)
commemorates the day of Christ’s crucifixion. Sábado de Gloria (Holy
Saturday) memorializes the full day Christ was in the tomb. Domingo de Resurrección
(Easter Sunday) celebrates the Resurrection of Christ.
On Domingo de Ramos vendors outside
churches sell woven palm leaves, and inside the priest blesses them. On Jueves Santo, Viernes Santo, Sábado de Gloria, and
Domingo de Resurrección, there are special masses each day.
On Sabado de Gloria, statues
of Mary are covered with black dresses because she is considered to be in mourning.
Elementary schools, middle schools
and most high schools in Mexico have a two-week vacation. They don’t go
to school the week preceding Easter Sunday (Semana Santa) and the week following Easter Sunday (Semana de Pascua). Most university students have only the week preceding Easter free. And
many Mexican families travel.
There are many regional Holy
Week customs in Mexico. For example, Tarahumara Indians in the mountains of Chihuahua
paint themselves white during Holy Week.
In some cities there is a Procesión
de Silencio, a silent procession, wherein the people march down the street by candlelight, in silence. This custom is from
the Spanish city of Sevilla, famous for Semana Santa observances.
Another tradition still popular
in southern Mexico is the “burning of Judas,” practiced on Sábado de Gloria. This custom features effigies of
Judas (with firecrackers inside!) being burnt. The Judas effigy is often in the
form of a contemporary person, frequently an unpopular politician. It should be interesting to see who gets burnt in effigy
this Sábado de Gloria.
Another custom is the Vía Crucis,
Way of the Cross, a procession in which an actor portraying Christ bears a cross down a street. In some locales this is part of a Passion Play, a dramatic representation of the crucifixion of Christ.
The most famous Passion Play
in Mexico is in the Mexico City borough of Iztapalapa. It has been performed
annually since Iztapalapa survived a cholera outbreak in 1833.
The Iztapalapa Passion
Play is a true community endeavor, organized and carried out annually. The drama
includes thousands of locals as actors, and reportedly draws 2 million spectators.
All the pageant’s
actors must have been born in Iztapalapa. Whoever portrays Christ is selected
on the basis of both good moral character and physical strength. The actor wears an actual crown of thorns, is flogged, and
bears a 200 pound cross through the streets, before being “crucified” (tied to
the cross, not nailed).
The Iztapalapa Passion Play is
truly a sight to behold. When a reporter asked a local man about it, he replied:
"We pray, we cry, as if all this is real. We know it is not. But yet … maybe we come because we are all sinners. Maybe
somehow it helps us make fewer sins in our lives…. Maybe, just maybe, people
are better because of it."
In closing, I wish all
my Mexidata.info readers a Happy Easter. In the words of the traditional Mexican
greeting: ¡Felices Pascuas de Resurrección!
Allan Wall, an educator, resided in Mexico for many years. His
website is located at www.allanwall.net.