With a larger Catholic population than any other city in the world, you won’t find chocolate eggs and Easter bunnies in Mexico City during Semana Santa (Holy Week). Instead, the city devotes itself to a week of impassioned religious activity, including grand street processions, special church services and dramatic passion plays. Good Friday, which marks the crucifixion of Christ, is a highlight of the week’s celebrations – and a hotly anticipated event year-round. Here’s what to expect.
Churches are draped in dark colours…
Being the day of Jesus’ death, Good Friday (Viernes Santo in Spanish) is a sombre day in Mexico City. As a display of deep mourning and loss, church facades and interiors are draped in dark colours. It may sound a little depressing, but, contrasted with the lavish gold altars, flickering candles, and the light hum of people praying, it creates a staggering atmosphere.
And altars are lavishly decorated
While the rest of the church may be dark, the altars – already made beautiful with their ornate gold detailing – are bursting with colour. Throughout the day on Good Friday, thousands of people lay beautiful bouquets of flowers at church altars across the city as a display of mourning for Jesus Christ. Even if you’re not religious, it’s a stunning sight to see.
Parades may not be what you expect
When you think of parades, bold, glittering colours, roaring live bands and twirling dancers come to mind. However – while you may get some of that later in the week, Good Friday is very much reserved for mourning. So, expect bloody Christ statues, silent marchers draped in rags with their faces covered and a low, sombre drum keeping everyone’s footsteps in rhythm. It might not be a party, but it’s definitely a sight that sends shivers down your spine.
You won’t see many meat tacos on the menu
The Roman Catholic Lenten traditions dictate that no meat should be eaten on Good Friday. So instead, you’ll see Mexicans eating a simple diet of fish soup, nopales (prickly pear cactus), or lima beans. Hardcore religious devotees will even fast completely on Good Friday.
Getting around can be a little tricky
Many roads on Good Friday (and most of Holy Week) will be closed for processions and performances. This means that getting anywhere by bus or car is pretty much a no-go. Opt for the metro or, if you can, go by foot. Also, Good Friday is a public holiday, so expect fewer taxis around, a holiday bus timetable and many businesses sporting their “cerrado” sign.
There’ll be lots of drama
Passion plays, dramatic performances depicting the crucifixion of Christ, are hugely popular during Holy Week, especially on Good Friday. The most famous, with almost 1 million people turning up to watch every year, takes place just outside the city in a town called Iztapalapa. This is a big-scale performance, and actors spend months (sometimes even the whole year) preparing for their roles in the show.
The city is at its quietest
This may come as a surprise, but visiting Mexico City bang smack in the middle of the Easter holidays means you’ll see it at its quietest. Whilst visitors from other parts of the country and beyond flock here for the intense religious celebrations, chilangos, as the city locals are called, head to Mexico’s beaches to enjoy their time off. Semana Santa is, in fact, the only time of year where the city’s crazy traffic eases, the thick smog thins out and you might even be able to get a seat on the metro.
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