Holy Week and the week following are two of the busiest tourist and vacation weeks for Mexicans. In San Cristóbal Holy Week is a mixture of solemnity, frivolity and mystical ritual. Most schools are closed for these 2 weeks and it tends to be our hottest, driest time of the year. Since the economy of San Cristóbal is based on tourism, the place is packed with visitors! The hotels and restaurants do a booming business this week, for some it is what tides them over for the rest of the year. Booths selling all kinds of food are set up in the central park area. Lots of vendors walk through the crowds selling trinkets, jewelry, cotton candy and other treats. Though, as Christians, we call this Holy Week, for most here it is a week of amusement, indulgence, carousing and revelry.
Holy Week and the local Catholic Church Traditions
Amid the amusement on Thursday evening solemnity slips in as the faithful Catholics visit 7 different churches to recall the vigil the apostles kept in the garden while Jesus prayed before his arrest. You will see many families strolling from one barrio church to another as they seek to visit 7 churches to pray the Stations of the Cross.
Good Friday is the most important day of Holy Week for the Catholics of San Cristóbal. There are many processions, some are silent, others chanting, usually carrying religious figures on wooden platforms. They go from home to home, stopping at those homes that have erected small shrines. There they say prayers and bless the house and its occupants before moving on. There is a passion play at noon depicting the crucifixion of Jesus. Some churches bring large images of a suffering or crucified Jesus outside and people line up to weep and kneel before the images, often kissing or caressing the images as well.
On Saturday night, after dark, there is the Burning of Judas. These Judas figures in effigy include government bureaucrats, Church officials, the army, the United States, Spanish conquistadors, and celebrities as well as Judas. The figures are lit and people try to stay back at a safe distance, but fireworks often fall among the crowds
Sadly, Easter Sunday seems to have much less importance in the Catholic Church of San Cristóbal. Most of the churches have a quiet mass with a few of the faithful in attendance. Often it is a day for first communions and confirmations. More important for many people is that Easter is the opening day for the San Cristóbal Spring Fair, so there is a small parade of floats and bands. Each barrio chooses a queen and in the fair’s opening ceremony held in the central park Sunday night the chosen “Queen of the Fair” is crowned. Fireworks explode and the amusement and carousing continues.
Evangelical Holy Week
The San Cristóbal Evangelical Churches celebrate Holy Week quite differently. Usually there is a worship service for each day of the week. In the congregation where we attend each evening a different member of the church leads the worship and the various leaders take turns sharing a message based on the Biblical passages of Holy Week. It is a week to ponder the sacrifice of Jesus and to share meals with family and friends. Some churches celebrate communion of Maundy Thursday. On Good Friday, nearly all of the Evangelical churches have a reflective service commemorating the death of Jesus.
On Saturday many churches have a spiritual retreat in a natural setting of a park, garden or forest. It is a time for resting, singing, praying, reading the Bible and sharing a meal together. There are usually some games, sports, or hiking as well. This retreat frequently begins early in the morning and lasts for most of the day.
Sunday morning is the highlight of the week and begins early with a sunrise service at 6 AM. The church is filled with beautiful white floral arrangements and many people come dressed in white. It is a joyful, glorious celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus! Choirs sing, Easter anthems ring out and the story of Easter is shared in Bible readings and preaching. Following the sunrise service we all share in a traditional breakfast of tamales, sweet bakery breads and heavily sugared black coffee. After breakfast there is another time of praise and worship of our risen Savior!