` Semana Santa, or Holy Week in English, is the week prior to Easter that begins with Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter). In Mexico, there are many celebrations and events that occur during this time that I had the opportunity to experience. Palm Sunday had similarities, but also some differences to the ceremonies that occur back home. In the evening, I went to Mass with my host mom to the church where we normally attend Mass. This Sunday it was decorated with beautiful flowers. After we sat down we were given two chuncks of palm tree, in comparison to Oregon, where we are given only one or two blades of a palm. Mass then began with a procession of a statue of Jesus on a donkey and the congregation waved their palms to reenact the bible story of Jesus entering Jerusalem. The rest of Mass was then similar to Mass in the U.S. The next day of Holy Week that I attended was Holy Thursday. The tradition in Oaxaca is to visit seven different churches around the city. We joined a tour group at our school, and one of the staff members took us on a walk to see those churches. For Good Friday, a few of us traveled to Chapultapec to join a procession of a living Stations of the Cross. The Stations of the Cross follow the experiences of Jesus, from being accused and sentenced to death, to his crucifixion and being placed in the tomb. For this event, people were dressed up as different people and they acted out the different stations. The procession went from Monte Alban to the church, by walking slowly through the town. We joined the procession around the second station of the cross, so we did not start at Monte Alban. After each station that occurred at certain points of the walk a few prayers were said. In the evening I attended a Good Friday service where I normally attend Mass; the experience was incredible. In a couple different ways, the death of Jesus was remembered. The first part of the service was spent remembering what Jesus went through, from being accused to his death. It was then followed with the first and second readings and then the gospel, which told the story of His death. After that, everyone had the opportunity to venerate the cross. On Holy Saturday I went to a wedding in a small town a little ways out of Oaxaca called Matatlán. Just as the United States, it began with a ceremony and was followed with a reception. There were, however, a few differences. For example, as gifts the newlyweds were given items such as appliances, furniture, pots and pans. The foods served were typical dishes of the area, and whatever was not eaten we were supposed to take home with us. They gave us empty plastic bags at the beginning of the meal so we would take the leftovers home. Easter Sunday ended up not being quite what I expected. Since the Semana Santa was full of events going on in various places I figured Easter Sunday would as well. It turned out that this was not so. I went to Mass in the evening as usual, but it was for the most part a normal Mass. I thought there would be a lot of music and singing like back home, but there was not.
Overall, I would have to say that the Semana Santa was full of many cultural experiences. I had the opportunity to experience first-hand how other cultures celebrate it and participate in different events in varying communities. The wedding experience was also another cultural experience, and if I had gone to a different community it would probably vary from the experience I had there. Oaxaca is extremely culturally rich and I hope to continue to explore the different cultures.
Until next time! – Shelby Reece