How is the Beauty of Holy Week Celebrated Across the World?
While Holy Week is devoutly and spiritually observed all around the world, there are some places where it is a time of elaborate ritual, participated in by entire cultures and cities. Sacred traditions that date back centuries become the center of public life for a resplendent seven days.
On Palm Sunday, crowds gathered to meet Jesus, who rode into town on a donkey on his way to celebrate Passover in the Temple in Jerusalem. This tradition continues today, as each year Christians in Jerusalem celebrate Palm Sunday with a large procession of pilgrims carrying palms and singing Hosanna from Bethpage on the Mount of Olives to St. Ann’s Church on the Via Dolorosa.
“Spring Cleaning” kicks off Holy Week as Russian families begin a major housecleaning campaign so the house will sparkle when the Easter feast arrives. Baking and other preparations take place during Holy Week. The Russian people also take one last opportunity to engage in a strict fast which will last throughout Holy Week.
After morning Mass on Wednesday, all church bells fall silent until Easter. Young boys wander through the villages making noise with rattles to remind all to fast and abstain from meat. Additionally, farmers go to their fields and sprinkle the land with holy water to ensure a good crop.
Maundy Thursday in Poland, carrying on a custom initiated by King Zygmunt III, bishops and kings wash the feet of old men to commemorate Jesus washing the feet of the apostles. After this ceremony the old men are led to tables and dignitaries serve them to show their humility, just as Jesus Christ did. To remember the Last Supper, a family supper is eaten in every house. Many Poles do not eat at all after this meal until Sunday breakfast.
Jueves Santo in Mexico
Holy Week and Easter are a very important time in Mexico. School children generally celebrate a two-week vacation which runs through Holy Week or “Semana Santa” and the week following Easter. On Holy Thursday, Jesus’ washing of the feet of the apostles, the Last Supper, and Jesus’ arrest are commemorated. Throughout Mexico, the faithful process to seven churches to recall the vigil the apostles kept in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to his arrest.
Maundy Thursday in Russia
Those who attend Maundy Thursday Mass carry a candle home from church. If they manage to keep the flame alive, they make the sign of the cross with the candle above their front door. Upon entering the house they use the flame to light the candles standing before their icons. The light of the flame is a symbol of the enlightenment of the world with the light of the teaching of the Gospel.
La Madrugá in Spain
La Madrugá is the name given to the night between Holy Thursday and Good Friday. In Seville, Spain, Christians mark the evening in procession. The procession culminates on the dawn of Good Friday, as everyone gathers in front of the Cathedral to commemorate the trial and the events that led to the crucifixion and death of Jesus. On Easter Sunday, the sober processions are replaced by colorful parades and people eat all sorts of sweets and pastries.
Semana Santa in Guatemala
In Antigua, Guatemala, thousands of visitors come each year to experience Holy Week, which has some of the most elaborate processions in the Western Hemisphere. The processions reach their height on Good Friday. The centerpiece of each procession is a large wooden float weighing several thousand pounds. This large float depicts a scene from the Passion of Jesus Christ and is carried through the streets of Antigua for up to eight hours and can require up to eighty people to carry. The floats are so heavy that even eighty people can carry one for only a short time and each must be replaced often. Over the course of a long procession over 2500 people may be involved in carrying the float. Each major float is followed by a band that plays religious music. On Good Friday, participants dress up as soldiers and read the charges against Jesus. Others also participate in the festivities by lining the route with pine needles to soften burden of carrying the heavy floats over uneven cobblestone streets.
La Via Crucis in Rome
La Via Crucis is a living stations of the Cross. The tradition has long been a part of the Papal festivities surrounding Holy Week. It dates back to the 18th century, and after a period of being discontinued, it was revived in 1964 by Pope Paul VI. Throughout its history, the Pope himself carried the cross from station to station in imitation of Jesus; however, the most recent popes have been unable to carry the cross to due to physical limitations. The event takes place at the Colosseum.
El Salvador Sawdust Rugs
On the afternoon of Good Friday, Salvadorians make sawdust rugs on the streets which will later be part of the path where the “holy funeral procession” will pass, carrying the symbolic dead body of Christ. Entire streets and main avenues in many places of the country are completely closed.
Preparation of Christ’s Grave in Poland
On Good Friday in Poland, mirrors are covered with black cloth and parents wake their children with twigs. Nothing is eaten all day except a little bread and water. Starting on Good Friday and through Saturday, the various churches in town are visited to view Christ’s graves so beautifully and artistically arranged and bathed in flowers. There is much pageantry in this church ritual, with the life size image of the stricken Savior lying in a grotto, guarded night and day by priests and faithful worshippers.
Good Friday Procession in Peru
In Ayacucho, Peru, on Good Friday there is a big procession from Santo Domingo Church to Saint Sepulcher. A coffin made of crystal with the image of Jesus lays on white rose petals. It is followed with other images and women from the city all dressed in black.
Sabado de Gloria in Mexico
On Holy Saturday, there is a custom in some places of burning cardboard or paper mache figures of Judas in effigy because Judas betrayed Jesus. Typically the Judas figures are made to look like Satan, but they sometimes resemble political figures.
Salubong in the PhilippinesSalubong, which means meeting in English, is the highlight of Holy Week traditions in the Philippines. It is essentially a re-enactment of Christ’s encounter with his mother. Early on Easter morning, men carry a statue of Christ and women carry a statue of the sorrowful Mother Mary in separate processions. The processions meet at a designated area in front of the church. A child, playing the role of an angel, removes the black veil from Mary’s image. This symbolizes Mary’s joy upon seeing his son after rising again.
Filipino Catholics believe that Mary was among those who first saw the Risen Christ. The Bible mentions Mary Magdalene greeting Jesus Christ after the resurrection, but there is no direct mentioning of his mother.
The Osterbaum (Easter Egg Trees) in Germany
In Germany, Easter trees are made of branches cut from flowering bushes. They are brought into the house to be decorated with hand-painted wooden eggs and hollowed out real eggs. Living trees and bushes outside the house are also decorated with eggs and wreaths. The Easter egg symbolizes the empty tomb of Jesus. Volker Kraft's tree in this image is hung with about 10,000 hand-painted eggs, taking two weeks to decorate.