‘Easter in Latin America’, the ‘Semana Santa Festival’, ‘Holy Week’, ‘Great Week’, whichever name you use – the result is the same; a South American celebration which rivals Christmas and for some, is even more important! The Catholic traditions which permeate throughout the continent have had a long and enduring impact on the culture of Latin American people, and although every country has its own unique way of marking events in the calendar, you will also find common themes and a sense of unity in each. This, most commonly known as Semana Santa, is one of the best times of year to visit South America as you catch a glimpse of the real life, culture, passions and interests of its people. So, it’s only right that we take a snapshot look at Easter traditions in South America to give you some ideas, before planning your own trip with us!
For Christians, Easter represents the origins of faith, as Jesus’ rebirth symbolises power over death and confirms his divine status, though don’t panic, if you are visiting South America during Semana Santa there will still be plenty of time for the simple delight of the nice chocolate egg!
Unsurprisingly then, the church plays a central role during Semana Santa, with a range of special ceremonies and services taking place on the week leading up to Easter Sunday, which families attend daily, donning their smartest clothes. Typically, you will find re-enactments of the Last Supper, processions, mourning and remembrance during those days especially on Thursday and Saturday. In Peru, the national dish of ceviche is consumed even more readily than usual during holy week, though you will also find an extra abundance of fish and seafood in homes and restaurants across South America at this time of year, as well as so-called Spanish bread and ‘fasting soups’. Food, therefore, plays an integral part in all celebrations, culminating in a huge family feast on Easter Sunday as fast is broken, the seafood platters come out and the whole family enjoy a lavish meal together.
The Semana Santa celebrations in Popayan, Colombia, are of particular note. Here, you’ll witness elaborate processions and floats, effigies and clergy in ceremonial dress marching – en masse – through the streets of this picturesque, whitewash city; truly something wondrous to behold. The cultural diversity of Brazil is reflected in the range of Easter week celebrations. So, no matter which part of the country you find yourself in during the festival, be prepared for pretty flowers and collages made from petals, meeting burning effigies of Judas and graphic depictions of Jesus on the cross. This is something which can also be found in Venezuela, though nobody does street parades quite like the Brazilians!
As with the New Year celebrations in Argentina and Ecuador, it is all about family, family, family at Semana Santa, as cities empty and locals travel to the countryside and surrounding villages for downtime and celebration, plenty of food and lots of that Latin American spirit! Amidst the revelry and seemingly endless cuisine, there are also darker moments during those daily church services and processions. This is, after all, a somewhat sombre time in the Christian faith as well, being the time that Jesus was betrayed by his closest allies and brutally murdered, a fact which is reflected in the somewhat sinister hooded cloaks adorned by some worshippers and many references to the Last Supper, during evening masses.
That said, one thing is for sure – whether you are Christian or not, Semana Santa is an incredible time to take your vacation in South America. The streets are alive with authentic festivals and emotive processions, fine food and traditional fare is in absolute abundance, businesses wind down, the schools are closed, and a real slice of Latino life can be easily observed. Easter is a time of year which means an awful lot to many South American people, each country and even towns within that country celebrate in a different way. It’s traditional, real, and times quite moving, just one more reason to Discover Your South America, today!
Want to Discover Your South America during Semana Santa? Choose the country you’d like to travel to, select the itinerary template that you prefer and punch in your travel dates – then tailor your South America tour exactly how you want! Otherwise, call our travel team on 1 866 978 7398 (USA and Canada) or 080 8189 0438 (UK) to talk to the experts about a Semana Santa vacation.
You can also read more about festivals in Latin America by clicking here.