Holy Week, also known as “Semana Santa”, is a traditional celebration that has been a part of Nicaraguan culture for more than 470 years. Semana Santa is not advertised with jumping Easter bunnies, colorful chocolate eggs or egg hunts. On the contrary, Semana Santa is a part of Nicaragua’s culture that is taken so seriously that the entire country grinds to a halt to take part in the festivities and rituals. It is a combination of deeply rooted indigenous rituals and religious traditions that commemorates the death of Jesus and celebrates his resurrection.
The Holy Week celebrations last for an entire week with the main events taking place on Palm Sunday. The celebrations depict the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem; Holy Thursday, the day of the Last Supper; Good Friday, the crucifixion of Jesus; and Holy Saturday which depicts Mary’s grief and Sunday is the resurrection of Jesus. Each procession and each part of the Semana Santa is according to biblical passages that are reenacted with great care of deference to religious formalities.
Palm Sunday or “Precesion de la Burrita” takes place on the Sunday before the official Holy Week starts. This procession doesn’t last long, but it starts at the local church with either a statue of Jesus, or a human playing the role of Jesus, placed on the back of a donkey. Parishioners and priests then accompany the donkey on its walk around town that ends back at the church. Participants on the march have palm fronds in their hands and this re-enactment celebrates the welcoming of Jesus to Jerusalem. The most subdued and solemn part of the Holy Week takes place on Good Friday.
In some cities and towns Holy Week commences with the early morning “Service of Darkness”. To symbolize the resurrection of Jesus and him being reunited with Mary, a procession that has a statue of Mary and a statue of Jesus meets at a predetermined location. This is a celebration that is accompanied by music and festivity. The processional music is deep and the procession is slow as the crowd mourns the coming death and burial of Jesus. The procession that takes place during the day is known as the “Stations of the Cross” which depicts the crucifixion of Jesus and his painful and burdensome walk to his place of crucifixion.
As part of these traditional religious services, the streets of towns and cities throughout Nicaragua are adorned in beautiful and colorful street carpets that are created by the locals. Most street carpet are created from colored sawdust and made free-hand. Unfortunately, these spectacular carpets are only temporary works of art as most are destroyed by the procession.
The entire week is not just filled with processions and rituals, but with fun and relaxation. Many locals and visitors flock to beaches for some sun and well-deserved rest. Tour groups often use the Holy Week to combine a week of tradition with a week of parties, festivity and sporting events that take place on the beach. It is an inspiring week and a time to see Nicaragua and its people at their best.