Easter is one of the most important Christian holidays. It commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ after he was crucified. In México, where 90% of the population is Catholic, Easter is taken very seriously – and literally – with colorful, passionate processions reenacting the Passion of Jesus Christ’s last days on earth.
The week leading up to Easter, known in English as Holy Week, is called “Semana Santa” in Latin American countries and is celebrated with processions, masses and other events that mark Jesus Christ’s triumphant return to Jerusalem, his trial, his walk carrying the cross, and his crucifixion.
In Mérida and in many villages including Tixkokob, people recreate the “Vía Cruces”, complete with actors and costumes of those ancient times. They also acknowledge the 14 stations, the places where Jesus fell as he bore his burden. It can be quite striking to see a mass of people dressed in the clothing of Jesus’ time, walking behind an actor playing Jesus as he struggles doubled over from the weight of an enormous cross, with a crown of thorns on his head. Roman soldiers stand by and the Apostles are there as well. The actors are then hung on the crosses. Townspeople walk in the procession too, playing the role of the penitents who marched behind Jesus. It is moving to watch.
“Domingo de Ramos”, Palm Sunday, starts off Semana Santa, and the week builds toward Holy Thursday, Good Friday and of course, Easter Sunday, known as “Domingo de Resurrección”, Resurrection Sunday. On Palm Sunday everyone goes to mass in the morning for the blessing of the palm leaves; when dry, the leaves are made into crosses that people use as amulets, adorning their cars and homes.
On Holy Thursday and Good Friday, the activities become more elaborate. On Holy Thursday the “washing of the feet” ceremony is celebrated. During mass, the highest-ranking priest washes the feet of 12 local parish priests, just as Christ did with his 12 apostles.
On Good Friday, the Passion plays are enacted. The best places to view these passion plays are in Mérida at the Cathedral and in Santiago neighborhood, and on the Convent Route in Acancéh and Maní. Activities start mid-morning and culminate at 3 pm, the approximate time of Christ’s death.
Palm Sunday – April 9
Holy Thursday – April 13
Good Friday – April 14
Holy Saturday – April 15
Resurrection Day / Easter Sunday – April 16