Monday, April 24, 2017
The 2017 Easter
Season in Mexico
By Allan Wall
Easter Sunday of 2017 was celebrated worldwide by all branches of Christendom on April
16th. In Mexico, the Easter season brings with it a wide variety of traditional regional observances which
are important religiously, culturally, socially and even economically.
The crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ are foundational
to the Christian faith. That’s why the major branches of Christendom (Roman Catholic, Protestant and the Eastern Churches)
memorialize – in various ways – the death, burial and resurrection of Christ each spring.
Mexico has a variety of traditional
Easter customs, most deriving from Spain, with a diversity of traditions linked to particular regions and cities.
The Easter season begins
on Miércoles de Ceniza (Ash Wednesday) and continues through Cuaresma (Lent), the 40-day period until
Semana Santa (Holy Week).
Semana Santa (Holy Week) begins on Domingo de Ramos
(Palm Sunday), the day of Christ’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. The Last Supper was held on Jueves Santo
(Maundy Thursday). Viernes Santo (Good Friday) commemorates the day of Christ’s crucifixion. Sábado
de Gloria (Holy Saturday) is the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Domingo de Resurrección (Easter
Sunday) celebrates the Resurrection of Christ.
Mexican schoolchildren get two weeks of vacation from classes, the week before Easter
and the week after. I remember when I lived in Mexico and was teaching English in school, that two-week vacation was
a good time to travel.
Various folk customs are observed throughout Mexico during Holy Week. These are deeply-rooted
religious, cultural and social practices that vary from place to place. They are folk expressions which don’t
necessarily depend upon the Catholic hierarchy to be carried out from year to year, they are longstanding traditions.
One such custom is the
Quema de Judas (Burning of Judas), which was brought from Spain and is popular in parts of Mexico.
An effigy, with fireworks
inside, is set on fire and publicly burnt. It represents Judas Iscariot and it also represents an unpopular contemporary
figure, usually a politician. Thus, a traditional folk religious custom is combined with political expression.
This year, guess who was
burned in effigy in Mexico on Sábado de Gloria in various parts of Mexico? Yes,
that’s right. It was Donald Trump.
During Holy Week various passion plays, dramatic reenactments of the
crucifixion of Christ and the life of Christ are held in Mexico.
The most famous reenactment is held in the Mexico City borough of
Iztapalapa. It began in 1843 after Iztapalapa suffered a cholera outbreak and has been held ever since except for a
brief suspension during the Mexican Revolution in the early 1900s.
The Iztapalapa Passion Play is a true community endeavor, organized
and carried out annually by the locals. It begins on Palm Sunday and ends on Easter Sunday, with five days of public
presentations. This year, nearly two million spectators attended.
All of the pageant’s actors must have been born
in Iztapalapa. Whoever portrays Christ is selected on the basis of both good moral character and physical strength. The actor
wears an actual crown of thorns, is flogged, and bears a 200-pound cross through the streets before being “crucified”
(tied to the cross, not nailed).
The Iztapalapa Passion Play is truly a sight to behold. When a reporter asked a local man about it
one year, he replied. "We pray, we cry, as if all this is real. We know it is not. Yet, maybe we come because we are
all sinners? Maybe somehow it helps us make fewer sins in our lives…. Maybe, just maybe, people are better because
Iztapalapa is the biggest and most famous such Mexican Passion Play. There are many other observances
throughout the country. Though smaller, they are just as important to their local communities as that of Iztapalapa.
Sadly, one such observance
in Tancitaro, in the state of Michoacan, ended in tragedy. A 23-year old man was portraying Judas Iscariot,
who hanged himself. Somehow, the actor lost his balance, slipped off a platform he was standing on and
was accidentally strangled.
As described in Britain’s Daily Mail, “According to witnesses, the young man had put a rope around his neck and
then around a tree to simulate being hung. But he slipped off his support and was left dangling in thin air.”
The audience didn’t
realize it at first, until it was noticed that he wasn’t breathing. The young man was taken in an
ambulance to a nearby clinic but it was too late, he had died. It was an unexpected tragedy for the young
man, his family, the audience and the community.
Allan Wall, an educator, resided in Mexico for many years. His website is
located at http://www.allanwall.info.