Monday, April 6, 2015
Holy Week, Religion
and Politics 2015 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.
Mexico has a variety of traditional Easter customs, many of them deriving from
Spain, with a diversity of traditions linked to particular regions and cities.
The Easter season begins on
Miércoles de Ceniza (Ash Wednesday) and continues through Cuaresma (Lent), the 40-day period until
Semana Santa (Holy Week).
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) is the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Domingo de Resurrección (Easter Sunday)
celebrates the Resurrection of Christ.
Mexican schoolchildren get two weeks of vacation from classes, the week before
Easter and the week after. I remember when I lived in Mexico and was teaching English in school, that two-week
vacation was a good time to travel.
Various folk customs are observed throughout Mexico during
Holy Week. These are deeply-rooted religious, cultural and social practices that vary from place to place.
They are folk expressions which don’t necessarily depend upon the Catholic hierarchy to be carried out from year
to year, they are longstanding traditions.
One such custom, also practiced in other Spanish-speaking
countries, is the Quema de Judas (The Burning of Judas).
An effigy, with fireworks inside, is
set on fire and publicly burnt. It represents Judas Iscariot, and it also represents an unpopular contemporary
figure, usually a politician. Thus, a traditional folk religious custom is combined with political expression.
One example: In 2015 Mexico City an organization called “Los Olvidados de Tepito” (“The
Forgotten Ones of Tepito”) selected as its “Judas” not an individual but an entire government agency.
It was INE, the Instituto National Electoral, the agency in charge of elections.
INE/Judas in effigy was a huge diabolical-looking figure holding an INE box. (See photo here in this La Jornada article.)
The INE/Judas was given a public “trial,” in
which the assembled were asked “Where shall this citizen be taken?”
The multitude cried
“Burn him, he’s a Judas!”
“Proofs, what are the proofs?”
asked the questioner.
The multitude replied, “They say it’s an organ to legitimate democracy,
but since its creation the INE was made to rob the people.”
One of those in attendance, a certain
Ana Garcia, explained why she agreed: “There is much social anger, for the quantity of money that is spent on the elections
when there is so much poverty in the country. For us this type of tradition is both a spectacle and a catharsis
for this generalized dissatisfaction.”
During Holy Week various passion plays, dramatic reenactments
of the crucifixion of Christ and the life of Christ are held in Mexico.
The most famous is held in
the Mexico City borough of Iztapalapa. It began in 1843 when the borough suffered a cholera outbreak, and
has been held ever since except for a brief suspension during the Mexican Revolution.
The Iztapalapa Passion
Play is a true community endeavor, organized and carried out annually by the locals. It draws several million
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).
year at least 411 actors participated, 136 of them with speaking roles. There were 500 extras and several
thousand others participating in the procession. See photos here.
The Iztapalapa Passion Play is truly a sight to behold. When a reporter asked a local man
about it one year, 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."
Allan Wall, an educator, resided in Mexico for many years. His website is
located at http://www.allanwall.info.