“Semana Santa” Holy Week in Antigua Guatemala: Preparations

Before you read this post, you might want to head over to a fellow bloggers posting titled “How To Speak Semana Santa” Do come back though…I have tons to share!

Semana Santa is Holy Week in Antigua Guatemala.  Holy Week occurs the week starting with Palm Sunday and ends on Easter. It’s purported to be THE best place to witness this celebration.  After being in Antigua for the last 4 days of the celebration; I would have to agree.  I can’t imagine that there is a more charming or beautiful place to witness this tradition.


During Semana Santa, there is at least one parade or procession through the city streets every day from Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday. There is much preparation that takes place in the 8-16 hours before these processions. The first task (pictured above) is pulling all of the Anda’s (floats) out of storage and cleaning them. This young man is hard at work making certain that the figures on the anda shine.

The anda’s are massive. With life-size figures made of wood or fiberglass and a base of solid wood; these platforms weigh up to 7,000 pounds! The Cucuruchos carry the anda’s on their shoulders through the streets. It takes from 40 to 120 people to carry just one of these massive platforms.

By far, the most interesting part of Semana Santa is the making of the Alfombra. An alfombra is a ‘carpet’ made of colored sawdust, flowers, fruits, pine needles and a multitude of other organic ingredients.



Entire families and sometimes entire communities get together and spend up to 16 hours meticulously working on these beautiful creations. It’s not uncommon to witness an entire block working on one alfombra. By far, the best night to see the work in progress was Thursday night.

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I was taken by not only the beauty of the Alfombra but the family involvement. Young to old, everyone got involved and it became an event.

image (This group of children are busy at work on their own creation while a group of adults works in the background)

It’s a tradition in Antigua, yet to me it was very unlike any of the Christmas traditions in America (Christmas, I think holds the strongest traditions in America. Which is why I use it as an example). The families make a day or night of the making of the Alfombra. Drinks, snacks, sometimes music. The children stay up all night to help and the older family members pitch in where they can. It’s a joyful event. Happiness is on everyone’s face. The joy is felt just walking the streets.



The making of the alfombra has origins from Spain and the Myans. It was originally a way to show penance and is thought to represent the palm leaves strewn at Jesus’ feet. Today, it seems almost a contest of sorts with each attempting to make a more beautiful alfombra than their neighbor.


Some take the ‘art’ to heart and produce the alfombra free-hand instead of using stencils. Below is a progression of the making of a free-hand alfombra that occurred right outside my hostel. This man made 3 different ones in the course of as many days.


Coming soon: Part II