semana santa in santiago atitlán

On Good Friday, Jon and I took a boat across the lake to Santiago Atitlán. Santiago is known for its Semana Santa celebrations, and we were excited to see the processions on Friday.  The indigenous people in Santiago speak Tz’utujil, a completely different language than Kaqchikel, the indigenous language spoken on our side of the lake. People here are often seen wearing traditional clothing called traje, which is also a different style from the clothing on our side of the lake. Needless to say, we were excited to venture over to Santiago to see the Semana Santa (or Holy Week) celebrations.

We left around 8:00am on Friday and took a public boat from Panajachel across the lake. It was really sunny and beautiful, a perfect day for Good Friday processions. I was really excited to see the processions because of the mixing of Catholicism and indigenous traditions. While people in Santiago celebrate the death of Christ on Good Friday like many Catholics, they also celebrate Maximón, a pre-Columbian Maya deity. Maximón is known as a trickster, and often receives money, cigars, fruit, and candles in exchange for favors. He resides in a different home in the community every year, and is blessed daily by shamans. I find this mix of Catholicism and indigenous tradition on this side of the lake fascinating. Of course, there are numerous instances of mixing of indigenous tradition and Catholicism throughout Latin America. It was really cool to see it in person where we live.

When we arrived in Santiago, we saw people making alfombras, or “flower carpets”, for the procession throughout town. We also saw hanging fruit all over town, which made everything seems lively and festive. It was fun to walk around, get food, look at all of the güipiles in the market, and watch everyone prepare for the processions.

We watched the Good Friday mass, which took place outside of the main church. They revealed a large cross with Christ’s body on it, took it down, and placed it into a casket. It was so interesting to watch. Afterwards, they began to carry this throughout Santiago (it was massive!), following the path laid out by the alfombras. Behind the casket with the Christ were women carrying a statue of the Virgin Mary. It was incredible to watch them march with these through town, carrying the casket, and burning incense.

I feel very fortunate to live in a place with such rich indigenous cultures. Every community around the lake has a completely different feel to it, and it’s been amazing to get to know each location. I love living here on the Lake, and feel grateful to observe and learn from people who live so differently from myself. This will definitely be a Holy Week we will never forget!

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The main Catholic church in Santiago.

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Dyed sawdust to make the alfombras.

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Jon, the hand model. 😉

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Traditional menswear from Santiago.

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The women wear these traditional head-wraps in Santiago. I think they are so unique! The older you are, the more you wrap.

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Jon pretending not to like me.

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