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With its majority Catholic population and centuries-old traditions, Mexico is naturally an interesting place to observe Holy Week, the days leading up to Easter. An important time for celebration and reverence in Christianity, Holy Week can also be fascinating for travelers of all faiths looking to experience unique aspects of Mexican culture.
One of the keys to enjoying Holy Week in Mexico, which takes place this year from April 14-20, is to plan ahead. Not only is this an important religious holiday, Holy Week is also when schools close around the nation. Many families travel, filling up hotels in beach destinations as well as the towns and cities where traditional celebrations take place.
Researching and booking in advance is also a good idea for foreign visitors looking to reserve a tour, since there are surprisingly few English-language guided tours that participate in the traditions. But with some knowledge of where the most vibrant celebrations occur, it can still be relatively easy to create a memorable Holy Week vacation in Mexico.
The week is made up of several important days, each of which are visually impressive and represent fascinating traditions. Some destinations stage more elaborate gatherings, especially on Good Friday.
The first event is Palm Sunday, known as “Domingo de Ramos” in Spanish, when Christians commemorate the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem. Processions in towns across the nation reenact his arrival, and visitors can purchase intricately woven palms. On Maundy Thursday — Jueves Santo — foot-washing ceremonies and mass take place, in honor of the washing of the feet of the apostles.
Good Friday — Viernes Santo — is dedicated to the crucifixion of Christ, and it’s the day when some of the most extravagant commemorations happen in some destinations around Mexico. For travelers, picking the best Holy Week destination often involves choosing the most appealing city to witness Good Friday traditions.
During Good Friday religious processions, participants carry statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary through the streets. Some communities also stage passion plays; one of the largest is in Iztapalapa, a borough of Mexico City. There, performances start on Palm Sunday and culminate with an especially impressive show on Good Friday, with thousands participating in a cross-bearing procession to a hilltop that represents Calvary.
Also worth visiting for Good Friday are the towns of Cholula, in the state of Puebla, where sand and flower tapestries grace the main square; and both San Miguel de Allende and Oaxaca, where a silent procession carries religious figures through the streets.
Holy Saturday — Sabado de Gloria — offers still more dramatic visuals. In some towns, a representation of Judas is burned in effigy, while in others, participants set fire to cardboard and papier-mache figures representing Satan or — interestingly enough — modern-day politicians.
Easter Sunday — Domingo de Pascua — is the final day of Holy Week, but in most cities, it’s decidedly quieter than the preceding days, with families heading to church for mass.
Among the tour operators that create Holy Week vacations in Mexico are Journey Mexico, which recommends booking as early as possible to assure availability, and Tia Stephanie Tours, which offers a customizable tour to Uruapan, a town in the state of Michoacan that’s known for its handicrafts.
Participants in the Tia Stephanie itinerary will attend a Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday) craft fair, which attracts artists from around the region, with opportunities to purchase everything from pottery and baskets to sculptures and wood carvings. Guides provide the backstory of the region’s religious traditions, and they also lead visits to view waterfalls and orchids at Eduardo Ruiz National Park, as well as to small villages along Lake Patzcuaro.
The DetailsJourney Mexico www.journeymexico.com
Tia Stephanie Tourswww.tiastephanietours.com