Easter in Latin America is a major holiday since it’s the region with the most Catholics in the world.
Although I am not a Catholic, I learned to appreciate the beauty and solemnity for the Holy Week festivities (Semana Santa) in Ecuador. It seemed to me like the whole country would shut down to renew their connection with their Catholic faith.
The festivities of Easter or Holy Week (Semana Santa) in Latin America starts on Palm Sunday (Domingo de Ramos). During this week, there are religious observations that include prayer meetings, masses, processions and other rituals.
Since it’s a four-day holiday, touristic attractions and resorts would benefit greatly of Easter. It’s actually the last weekend of beach season in Ecuador so visiting the ocean is a VERY popular thing to do during Easter.
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Catholic Traditions During Holy Week
One of my favorite memories of Easter was the year when my friend from school, Tatiana invited me to join her family at the beach. Her parents were devout Catholics so I got to witness some of the religious traditions that celebrate the last days of Christ’s life.
First, we didn’t eat any red meat during Semana Santa. Old wive’s tales indicate that whoever eats meat would become a fish! Regardless of that funny urban legend, it was pretty easy for me to join the meat fasting since I loved seafood!
Starting on Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday), we attended several masses throughout the week. The Palm Sunday mass is as important as the Domingo de Resurrección (Easter Sunday) mass. Although it was offered many times during the day, it got so crowded that it was difficult to find a seat.
The religious festivities would restart again on Jueves Santo (Maundy Thursday) with a mass, a Procession of the 12 Stations of the Cross, foot-washing ceremonies and with plays describing the Crucifixion and Resurrection. National television will also be broadcasting movies about Christ’s life and other biblical movies like The Ten Commandments.
One of the traditions for this day is to visit seven churches as a remembrance of the vigil the apostles kept in the garden while Jesus prayed. This was an important tradition for my friend’s family so I joined them the quest to visit seven churches throughout the day. Most of the churches were old so it was pretty amazing to learn about the colonial architecture.
On Viernes Santo (Holy Friday) when it recalls the crucifixion, there are masses, prayer meetings and solemn processions where devout participants dress in costumes and carry large wooden crosses. Sábado de Gloria (Holy Saturday) is a preparation for Domingo de Resurrección (Easter Sunday) where it’s celebrated Christ’s conquer over death with masses.
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Easter Traditions in Latin America
Burning of Judas
The burning of Judas is a popular Easter-ritual in Mexico and Venezuela where an effigy of Judas Iscariot is burned or exploded with fireworks. This tradition is interesting to me since in Ecuador we have a new year’s eve tradition of burning an effigy.
Procession to Remember an Earthquake
In Holy Week, there is a procession to remember the massive earthquake that hit Cusco, Peru in 1650 and destroyed the former Inca capital.
Huevos de pascuas or chocolate eggs are part of the Easter celebrations in Argentina.
Traditional Easter Food in Latin America
Fanesca is an Easter symbol from Ecuador, this high elaborated dish is made with fish and fresh grains that come from the Andean highlands of Ecuador. Learn how to make fanesca here.
Potaje de la Vigilia
This chickpea stew with cod is a popular Easter-dish in countries like Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia. Learn how to make it here.
This bun made with cassava, eggs, milk and cheese is a traditional Easter dish in Paraguay. Find here a great recipe.
Rellenos de Pescado Seco
These fish cakes are part of the Easter menu in El Salvador. Learn how to make them here.
Habichuelas con Dulce
This is a popular dish during Lent in Dominican Republic. Learn how to make it here.
How Do You Celebrate Easter?