(Featured image: Good Friday procession in Xochislahuaca, Guerrero)
Holy Week still plays an important cultural, and indeed economic, role in Mexico. Which it is seems to be mostly determined by whether one is from a urban or rural area, although there are exceptions. For most urban Mexicans, this is a major vacation period as most workers get at least the days leading up to Easter Sunday off, and many get the entire week. Most travelers either head to visit family in other parts of Mexico or head to the beach. This is a bellweather week for tourist areas such as Acapulco and Cancun. Mexico City is particularly quiet as most have head out to other places.
However, in most traditional and rural areas, the week is more about observance than getting out of Dodge, and preparations include a number of handcrafts. Palm Sunday, like in many parts of the world, sees the sales of palm fronds. While one can by a simple frond, most opt for quite elaborate weavings which vary in size from a few centimeters to a half meter or more in size.
Through the entire week, there are passion plays and processions, but the most common days for this are Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Some of the areas most famous for these include Iztapalapa (Mexico City), Taxco (Guerrero), San Miguel de Allende (Guanajuato), San Luis Potosí, and Tzintzuntzan (Michoacan). Despite their popularity, costumes and props for plays and processions are rarely commercially made, but rather made by the participants themselves or by local artisans. These include helmets and other gear for Roman soldiers, civilian garb from the era, masks (depending on the observance) and the floats and litters often filled with elaborate floral arrangements. They can also include the making of intricate “carpets” from colored sawdust, flowers and other plant matter, which will be destroyed as a procession passes over.
Holy Saturday used to be marked extensively, especially in central Mexico, with the burning of Judas Iscariot in effigy. At one time, thousands of Judas figures would be “burned” in the streets, especially in central Mexico, but the practice has waned since the mid 20th century. The reason for this is that the “burning” is really the explosion of a paper mache (cartonería) figure filled with fireworks, and a 1957 explosion at a warehouse in Mexico City led to bans on the making of fireworks in the city and most uses as well. The ban on use has since been relaxed, but this has not led to a revival to Judas burnings. They still take place, but are much more controlled affairs, generally done by artisan and other community organizations that obtain special permission for the event. One exception to this is the burning of various Judas figures done by the Linares family, of alebrije fame, whose status allows the exception.
(“Burning” of Judas in the main plaza of Toluca – skip to :52 for the good part)
It is important to note that a number of indigenous peoples in Mexico have important observances related to Easter Sunday, which are syncretisms of two world-views. The best-known of these is the Deer Dance of the Yaqui people, which simulates the hunt and death of a deer, so that the people may life. The protagonist not only has handcrafted hand and ankle rattles, he is signified by a headdress which includes a real deer’s head. Masks, costumes and/or body paint play vital roles in the observances of the Cora in Nayarit, the Tarahumara in Chihuahua, the Mayo in Sonora and various others.
(Video with photos related to Cora people’s use of masks and body paint)
Easter Sunday is almost an afterthought in all of this pageantry. It is a quiet day with the main traditions being attending mass and perhaps a family meal. Not to mention the fact that many of the city folks are trying to return home.
Many communities are noted for their Holy Week observances. These include Iztapalapa, Mexico City; Taxco, Guerrero; San Luis Potosi (city), San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Creel, Chihuahua and San Juan Chamula, Chiapas. Holy Week in 2016 falls between 20 and 27 March.