Easter is one of the most important holidays in Mexico. For many local Mexicans it is a time of religious of observance, but also it is a popular time for family vacations as it falls around the same time as spring break.
Easter Sunday falls on April 12 in 2020. Mexicans celebrate a number of traditions during this time because Mexico is a predominantly Catholic country, with approximately 80-90% of the population identifying as Catholic. In Catholicism, Easter commemorates the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Easter is celebrated over two weeks in Mexico. The first week is called Semana Santa (Holy Week), and the second week is called Semana de Pascua (Easter Week).
Semana Santa starts on the Sunday before Easter, known as Palm Sunday (Domingo de Ramos in Spanish). This day celebrates the biblical story of Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey before his crucifixion. The faithful laid down garments and palm leaves on the path in front of him to honor him.
In Mexico, churches are decorated with palm leaves on Palm Sunday, and vendors sell palm leaves woven into crosses or other figurines in front of the churches. Parishioners can receive a blessing of the palms by the priest during mass on Palm Sunday. After mass, the palms are traditionally taken home and placed inside the entryway to the home. In the church, the palms are kept to be used during the next year’s Ash Wednesday service.
Holy Monday (Lunes Santo), Holy Tuesday (Martes Santo) and Holy Wednesday (Miércoles Santo) are the quietest days during Holy Week, but you might find some events happening at the church. Holy Monday is the day that Jesus went to the temple and found it filled with vendors. He chased the vendors away, remarking that the temple is a sacred place. Holy Tuesday is the day that Jesus announced his impending death to his disciples. Holy Wednesday is the day that Judas’ betrayal of Jesus is remembered. Some churches hold a late-afternoon mass and reenact the disciples’ abandonment of Jesus.
The next important day of religious events in Semana Santa is Holy Thursday. This day celebrates the Last Supper, when Jesus Christ broke bread with his disciples, and instituted the sacrament of Holy Communion, as well as the Holy Order of the Priesthood. In Mexico this day is celebrated by attending mass, and then visiting 7 other churches in the community. Many churches hand out bread to visitors.
Good Friday is the most interesting day of Semana Santa in Mexico. On this day, Mexican Catholics remember the crucifixion of Jesus. The day is filled with dramatic parades and reenactments of the Passion of Jesus Christ, suffering and crucifixion. Members of church congregations dress and act in the roles of the story, including Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, and other characters present at Jesus’ crucifixion. In some cities in Mexico these reenactments are performed by trained actors who have prepared for their roles for months.
Some cities in Mexico also have a Procession of Silence on Good Friday. The largest one is in the city of San Luis Potosi. This silent procession is notable because participants wear hoods of anonymity, walk barefoot, and carry crosses, chains or other symbols of the crucifixion.
Saturday evening many churches have an Easter vigil starting around 8:00 pm or sometimes later. In this ceremony, the church is dark, and then a special candle called the Cirio pascual (Easter candle) is lit, and from that candle, more candles are lit. This symbolizes Jesus Christ coming as a light into the darkness, and spreading the light to humanity.
In some parts of central and southern Mexico, the Easter vigil is followed by a ritual known as the Burning of Judas, where effigies of Judas, are burned or exploded with fireworks.
Easter Sunday is the day of Jesus’ resurrection. Mexicans celebrate this day by attending mass. Most churches will be full of parishioners exuberantly celebrating the rise of Christ. After the mass, the church bells will ring. Plazas will be crowded with parishioners, families, and vendors selling food, toys, balloons and more.
Easter Sunday is the beginning of Easter Week (Semana de Pascua), which is the second week of the Easter celebration, and is vacation time for many. Families head to beaches in Puerto Vallarta for vacation, and set up colorful umbrellas and picnics on the sand.
Many families have either one or both weeks off from work and school. Many businesses are closed during this time. A generation ago, religious observance was the reason for time off, and Holy Week was strictly observed, but now, many modern Mexicans skip the religious ceremonies and take advantage of this time for family vacation. Some hotels in Puerto Vallarta have adopted American and Canadian traditions such as the Easter Bunny and Easter egg hunts, but these things are not very common in most of Mexico.
With the influx of vacationers, destinations like Puerto Vallarta offer lots of non-religious events such as soccer and volleyball tournaments, car shows, concerts, fashion shows, art shows, and even bikini contests.
Easter is a fun and educational time of year to visit Puerto Vallarta or any destination in Mexico. We hope you can plan a visit to Mexico in 2021 and experience the wonderful traditions of Holy Week. Wherever you are, we wish you a safe and healthy Easter holiday!