By Carole Reedy
Here in Mexico, the two most important weeks of the year take place in the weeks surrounding Easter, with the Christmas holidays a close second. It’s really no surprise since 90 percent of the population is Catholic. During these Easter weeks, the city’s residents pack up their cars or head to the bus stations or airport in anticipation of a well-deserved rest at one of the many beaches that hug the Mexican coastline. It’s an opportune time to explore Mexico City since traffic is more manageable, with fewer people on the streets, work hours reduced, and schools closed. Beware, though, of the highways entering and leaving the city as they will be full of escaping Chilangos.
This year Semana Santa is celebrated from March 28 until April 12, Easter falling on Sunday, April 5 (also the day of the Daylight Savings time change), Palm Sunday on March 29, Maundy Thursday on April 2, and Good Friday on April 3. These are the major celebratory dates.
During the four main days (Thursday, April 2, through Sunday, April 5), all banks will be closed, along with government offices. It’s best to wrap up all business before the two-week period because during them business transactions are difficult to conduct. Another bit of advice: heed your cash flow. ATM machines may not be serviced in a timely fashion, so best to withdraw the funds you need before April 1. During the four main days there’s also limited activity in the markets, museums, shops, and theaters.
Other locales with major Semana Santa celebrations are San Miguel de Allende, Patzcuaro, Oaxaca City, Taxco, and San Cristobal de las Casas.
Palm Sunday (Domingo de Ramos) is celebrated in the churches, usually with processions that reenact Jesus’ entry to the city. You’ll know it’s Palm Sunday because everyone on the street and riding the buses will be carrying palms! Woven palms are sold outside the churches, often in intricate designs suitable for souvenirs or hanging in your home.
Maundy Thursday (Jueves Santo) The day that commemorates washing the feet of the apostles, the Last Supper, and Jesus’ arrest in Gethsemane. In San Miguel de Allende on this day the traditional seven churches are visited in the evening by residents and tourists. In Mexico City, at the Catedral Metropolitana, masses are held in the morning and afternoon. For exact times, check the website:
The cathedral will hold services every day of Holy Week, but Holy Thursday is the day that altars and halls are bedecked with flowers. Usually the Cardinal performs a lengthy ritual washing of feet in a ceremony that celebrates the Last Supper. Last year it took place at 5 pm, but best to check at the cathedral for the exact time this year.
Good Friday (Viernes Santo) The crucifixion of Christ, or Via Crucis. The most elaborate and largest re-creation in the country of this event takes place in the form of a passion play in the municipal of Iztapalapa, in the southern part of the city. More than 4,000 residents of Iztapalapa perform in the play, which has been presented every year since 1843, and well over a million spectators arrive to experience it.
Best perhaps to watch it on your hotel television or look into an organized guided tour. The trial by Pontius Pilate occurs at midday, followed by thousands taking part in the Procession to Calvary, carrying crosses of different sizes. The man chosen to play Jesus carries a cross that weighs more than 100 pounds. The representation ends with Judas hanging himself at the side of Jesus. Another representation of the crucifixion takes place in the main plaza of La Villa de Guadalupe, home of the Basilica of Guadalupe.
Holy Saturday (Sabado de Gloria) There is a custom in Mexico called the burning of Judas because of his betrayal of Jesus. Paper mache figures of Judas hang from lamp lights in the zocalos. They’re then burned, often accompanied by firecrackers. Sometimes the figures are dressed to look like Satan, but often they resemble political figures. In some communities this tradition takes place on Sunday instead of Saturday.
Easter Sunday (Domingo de Gloria) The Main Cathedral in the Zócalo will be jammed for the many masses on this, the most important, holiday on the Christian calendar. But it’s well worth it to saunter near the area to experience the excitement and joy. Don’t look for Easter Bunnies, jelly beans, colored eggs, or any gringo traditions. You may see, in certain communities, colored egg shells filled with confetti being broken over friends’ and families’ heads. Even though Halloween has burst upon the scene in Mexico, thus far Easter hasn’t changed.
The Mexican League baseball season starts April 3 throughout the country. So, whatever city you’re visiting, if you’re a baseball fan, be sure to look for a game. The season runs through the end of August. There are teams in Mexico City, Puebla, Tijuana, Reynosa, Monterrey, Oaxaca, Quintana Roo, Saltillo, Tabasco, Aguascalientes, Campeche, Chihuahua, Monclova, and Yucatan. Mexico City won the 2014 championship!
If you don’t make it to Mexico for the Easter holidays, don’t despair because there are always celebrations in this most colorful of countries. On the heels of the Semana Santa, the Annual Mexico City Festival of Centro Historico is held from April 16 to 29. This two-week festival highlights diverse events such as opera, concerts, theater, art exhibits, dance production, and a gourmet fair. Proceeds from the event go to help the restoration of Mexico City’s centro historic downtown area.
The largest fair in Mexico takes place from April 19 to May 11, the Feria of San Marcos in Aguascalientes. There are activities galore, including the finest Mexican singers performing at various venues. The food court offers all kinds of traditional treats and the best matadors are represented at the corridas de toros (bullfights), which take place almost daily. There are also traditional cockfights, along with a fun-fair, rodeos, art displays, dance, and other events. Although gambling is illegal in Mexico, the Feria has a specially licensed permit to operate a casino.
Following the Feria de Aguacalientes, Mexico City once again hosts the Feria de las Culturas Amigas, an international fair with more than 80 countries represented. Each brings samplings of its food, traditions, dances, music, and various wares to display and sell. Last year it was held in the Zocalo, other years on Paseo de Reforma. At this writing we don’t have dates or location, but the fair is usually held the last two weeks in May. We’ll announce the exact days here in next month’s issue of The Eye. Patria, Libertad, Trabajo y Cultura is Mexico’s motto. And there is never a dull moment in the capital city.