April 6, 2007

Semana Santa: Holy Week and Easter Festivities in Tijuana

By Pablo Jaime Sainz

Call it the Mexican Spring Break.

Call it the most important religious celebration in Mexico.

But whatever you choose to call it, it can’t be denied that the period known as Semana Santa (Holy Week) is the time of the year when Mexican Catholic families in Baja California and the rest of Mexico consider this thee time of the year. This Semana Santa began with Palm Sunday, April 1.

Whether it is to go to the local beaches or to commemorate the death of Jesus Christ, Holy Week here is usually a time of joy. Children get two weeks off from school. Many companies shut down for that period so that their employees can spend time with their families.

Holy Week, or Semana Santa, begins on Palm Sunday (Domingo de Ramos, April 1, 2007) and ends with Easter Sunday (Domingo de Pascua or Domingo de Resurrección, April 8).

It marks Christ’s last days on Earth, leading to his death on the cross. Catholics regard it as the most important religious time of the year, because it serves as a reminder that Jesus died to save humanity.

The celebrations surrounding Holy Week are many. In Baja California and in the rest of Mexico these types of celebrations have been around for centuries, arriving in this country with the Spanish conquistadors.

Guillermo Prieto, a writer from the 1800’s, wrote in his memoirs: “From Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday throngs of people danced through the streets, in a movable feast of popular cuisine. Thirsty revelers guzzled aguas frescas, refreshing waters flavored with pineapple, melon, tamarindo, and chia seeds, dispensed by women from palm-frond and flower-decorated stands. Holy Week also marked the traditional start of Mexico City’s ice cream season, these frozen treats made with ice carried down from the slopes of Popocatépetl.”

Some of the religious traditions that can be seen in Tijuana during this time of the year are the following:

Blessing of the Palms: On Palm Sunday, Catholics gather in churches for the blessing of palm fronds or crosses or other figures made from palms. Some of these palms are burnt and saved to be used during next year’s Ash Wednesday.

Jueves Santo (Maundy Thursday): On this day, the Chrism, a sacred oil used in the sacraments, is consecrated.

Viernes Santo (Good Friday): The Passion of Jesus is commemorated in many communities, including almost every Catholic parish in Tijuana, with a passion play. It is a reenactment of the Via Crusis (The Way of the Cross). Sometimes as many as a hundred people participate in these plays. Usually, the young man chosen to play Jesus is considered to be privileged for getting the role. The people walk around in the streets near the parish. The celebration reaches its climax with a simulated crucifixion.

Sábado de Gloria (Holy Saturday): This day includes a vigil and a solemn mass.

Domingo de Resurección or Domingo de Pascua (Easter Sunday): For Mexican Catholics, this is considered the most important day of the year. They are expected to attend Mass and take Holy Communion. Usually, churches are at maximum capacity.

In case you might be wondering, where’s the Easter Bunny and its Easter Eggs? Well, in some Tijuana households and other places in Baja California, you might see children searching for the coveted Easter Eggs in their houses’ front yards or public parks.

This is due to the influence of being so close to the border. This is most common among families who have lived at the border for a long time or who have family members who live in the U.S. But, for the most part, it’s not common to see the Easter Bunny on Easter here.

Although Holy Week is primarily a religious time, it is also a time for Mexicans to vacation. And in Baja California, beaches such as Playas de Tijuana, Rosarito, and Ensenada, are at hand. So don’t be surprised if you see more local tourists in these locations during Holy Week. La Bufadora, south of Ensenada, is also a popular spot for families during Semana Santa.

There are those Tijuanenses of course who think that Holy Week should be completely devoted to religious celebration.

“Christ died for our sins during this time,” said Lorena Fonseca while she was visiting Tijuana’s Downtown Cathedral. “Holy Week is a time to have an encounter with Jesus, to thank him for his sacrifice. Going to the beach is no sacrifice.”

Genaro Ponce agreed. He added that instead of looking at Holy Week as a time to party with alcohol at the beach, it should be a time to party at Church, getting drunk with the love of God.

“Mass during Holy Week is a fiesta,” he said. “We’re celebrating the life and passion of Christ. It’s beautiful.”

Some Mexican Catholics in Tijuana believe that Holy Week can be both a time of religious celebration and vacation.

“You can do both,” said Mario Torres, a 21 year old university student. “You can go to the beach on some days, and spend Good Friday and Easter Sunday in church. Those are the most important days after all.”

No matter how liberal or conservative they are, Tijuana Catholics regard Holy Week as an important time of the year.

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