Easter in Colombia is a very different celebration than those you would encounter in the United States or United Kingdom. For starters, most Colombians do not even celebrate what one would technically designate as Easter; rather, they celebrate the time leading up to Easter Sunday. In this post, I will do my best to explain a little better what most Colombians celebrate during the “Easter season.”
Easter season officially starts in Colombia after Carnival, as in most Christian and Catholic based societies around the world. Ash Wednesday is the day that Lent (in Spanish, “la Quaresma) begins, and while many Colombians do not take Lent seriously, you do run across devout Colombian Catholics who do in fact give up something for Lent, even if it is only giving up meat on Fridays. And, even if they are not celebrating Lent, the majority of Colombians at least know what Lent is and are aware that it is “happening.”
The biggest celebration during the Easter season, though, is that of Semana Santa, in English: Holy Week. For some Colombians, Holy Week is indeed an entire week of “vacation” time leading up to Easter. For instance, students and teachers are given the entire week off from work. However, for other people it is only Maundy Thursday/Holy Thursday and Good Friday that are officially holidays. On Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, you will be hard pressed to find anything open in Colombia. Now, that does not mean everyone will be in mass or in a church—it does mean, though, that you are in a Catholic country where these two days are nationally declared holidays. There are, though, many Colombians who indeed will go to mass on these days, and many people who will also partake in visiting different churches or important altars on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.
For the majority of Colombians, though, Holy Week is a break. I would go so far as to say for most it is like Spring Break, but not just for students—for everyone. Most Colombians plan their family vacations during Holy Week, and many of the bigger cities in Colombia are relatively empty during this time, as most people take advantage of the national holidays and head to the United States, other Latin American countries, or other cities and small towns in Colombia.
A neat plan that some Colombians participate in is traveling to smaller towns in Colombia where the older and more religious traditions of Holy Week can still be observed. In smaller towns, you can still see Holy Week processions, encounter typical Holy Week sweets, and observe traditional Holy Week decorations in the town churches. Some of the most famous places for Holy Week celebrations are cities like Popayan, Tunja, and Mompox.
All of that being said, on what is actually Easter Sunday most Colombians do not do anything extraordinary. Some people attend mass, but it is not anything compared to what people in the United States or the United Kingdom would do on Easter Sunday. You won’t see any Easter baskets, dyed Easter eggs, or even Easter themed sweets being exchanged. In fact, many Colombians are surprised when I explain to them all of the many traditions surrounding Easter Sunday in the United States. They are also surprised to find that Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are not in fact national holidays in the United States.
So, while Colombians may not celebrate Easter in the same way others do, they definitely know how to celebrate and enjoy their Holy Week!
Happy Holy Week,
Paige M. Poole,
About the author:
“Paige M. Poole is an Alabamian and traveler at heart who has settled, for now, in Barranquilla, Colombia, and earns her living as an English professor at the Instituto de Idiomas (Language Institute) at la Universidad del Norte (University of the North). When not teaching English, she enjoys blogging, traveling, relaxing on the beach, and spending time with her partner and two cats, Milo and Sophie. You can see more of Paige’s traveling experiences in her personal blogwww.trotamunda.wordpress.com
- Surviving the Holy Week in Bogota. A foreigner’s guide ((www.uncovercolombia.com)
- Top-10 Historic churches in Bogota (www.uncovercolombia.com)
- The History and Origins of Easter (personalcreations.com)