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SEMANA SANTA

and the Cuaresma in Oaxaca

The somber and eerie Good Friday Procession of Silence

(Below) Good Friday processions, April 6, 2007

photos by Kim Elinski

                                                       Photos above by Kim Elinksi, 2007

The forty days preceding Easter--la quaresma--are an excellent time to spend time in Oaxaca. The weather is warming up, but it's seldom too hot, and the evenings are ideal for wandering, people watching or just hanging out at the zcalo. The jacaranda trees are in bloom, heaping up clouds of purple blossoms overhead, or scattering them at your feet.  And tradition-loving Oaxaca is getting ready for Semana Santa--Holy Week--the seven days leading up to Easter Sunday.

Surprisingly, many hotels and B&Bs are not full even during Semana Santa itself, although it's certainly a good idea to reserve in advance as you can.

It's worth dropping by lovely Llano Park on any of the five Friday mornings preceding Easter, where young men follow an old tradition by presenting women with bunches of roses, violets or jasmine. A Oaxacan friend points out that of course they start with their own girlfriends!

On the fourth Friday of Lent, many Oaxacan women follow a lovely tradition recreating the biblical story of Jesus being given a drink of water by a woman from Samaria. Oaxacan women make delicious fruit-flavored aguas and serve them to visitors and passers-by from flower-draped ollas. The cover of Viva Oaxaca depicts a moment from la samaritana.

On the sixth Friday of the cuaresma, many Oaxacans create beautiful altars to honor the bereaved Virgin. Many feature chia-sprouting clay animals symbolizing spring and re-birth. You're most likely to see these in the the neighborhoods of Jalatlaco and Xochimilco.

The most striking features of Semana Santa itself are the religious processions, which carry you back to the sights and sounds of medieval Europe. In contrast to the noisy and festive calendas with which Oaxacans love to celebrate just about any other event, the Holy Week processions are somber and serious.

White-robed and hooded penitents

For devout Oaxacans, Easter is the most important religious celebration of the year, and this is reflected in the fervent processions and ceremonies that take place throughout the region. This year, Semana Santa is observed from March 17 through Easter Sunday, March 23, 2008.

Devotion to the Virgin Mary

(Some photos on this page courtesy of the Gobierno de Oaxaca)

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