Holy Week in Paraguay. It’s much more than the one day holiday we have in the States. In fact, it felt like a bigger deal than Christmas here and was definitely more traditional and based in religion than it’s commercialized counterpart in the States.
Preparations began before Palm Sunday with several stations of the cross ceremonies in my community. Members of the church came together to form a procession that continued from house to house to read scripture and pray in observance of each station of the cross.
I also was able to experience this tradition on a grander scale in Piribebuy, a larger city just 20 minutes away. The students from local schools dressed up to act out each station of the cross much like we do for Christmas with live nativities in the States… the parade of spectators followed a Jesus carrying his cross through a candlelit street.
To celebrate Palm Friday I went out into the countryside with one of my younger host brothers, Hugo, and we cut down our very own palm tree. In the process I learned that there are several rules involved when you are searching for your own palm. For one, not all palm looking trees are created equal. You can only use one variety called Pindo down here. This variety, fortunately lacks the giant spikes that many other varieties here have. You also have to concentrate all effort on cutting out the new leaf stalks that are emerging from the center of the tree. Yes, that means the easier to reach older leaves are a no-no. The Pindo we ended up settling for, the shortest we could find, was actually surprisingly taller than I had imagined and when Hugo’s attempts to climb a nearby tree to put down the palm and my attempt to ask for a chair or ladder in Spanglish from a German neighbor both failed we were left with no choice but for me to take on my role as a machete wielding giraffe. Thankfully after a few, okay QUITE a few, swings, we had our palms, just in time for Sunday’s service.
After Palm Sunday my younger host brother, Lucas, discovered a random DVD copy of Moses which happened to only be in English or Portuguese. We ended up settling on watching it in Portuguese with English subtitles. I could read the subtitles and my host dad, supposedly, could understand the dialogue. The rest of the family just watched and every once in a while would shout out. “Oh, I know what that means! I’m so clever!”
For Holy Wednesday school was canceled, though there was some confusion about that. Most year’s there is no school on Holy Wednesday but apparently the government had said that this year they were going to have class or something like that. Then, the night before, it was apparently announced on TV and radio that the government had changed its mind or something like that. What did that mean for me? Well, I woke up at 5AM to take part in the Holy Wednesday of making Chipa (a traditional unleavened cheesy cornflour bread) with my host mom and grandmom. Then I headed off to the school where I encountered a small group of confused teachers and students. We, the “uninformed ones” hung are for a bit until the school director showed up and tried to explain the confusion which I still really didn’t understand but then we all left and I went back to making literally HUNDREDS of Chipa with my host family.
For Holy Friday, the school director brought our the school’s new projector to screen a showing of Passion of the Christ on the wall of the health post. And, yes, someone asked me if they were speaking English in the film.
Holy Saturday I went back into Piribebuy with a group of singers and such from our community to celebrate a traditional meeting of the saints, 3 giant statues representing Jesus, Mary and another saint, after the Holy Saturday church service. We also witnessed the traditional burning of the hung Judas. See the before and after pics.
We arrived back in Capilla Cue Saturday night around midnight and had just 2 hours to rest before waking up once more to take part in the traditional parade of Saints from one sanctuary in my community to the largest church in town. It was still dark and community members had donned the streets with candles in plastic bottles and bamboo torches fueled with scraps of old clothing. It was a beautiful site as we marched holding traditional “faroles” or lanterns and the community’s chorus led us in traditional religious hymns in Guarani. Our group grew as we proceeded onward towards the San Ignacio church.
It turned out I was actually just part of one of three groups making the same march in my community from their different neighborhoods. Each group had their own choir and their own Saint statue and we all three met they performed a traditional greeting dance and the Easter Sunday service began. After the service we all went back to bed as it was still only 4 or maybe 5, as the clock’s decided to change for Fall that night.
All in all I really enjoyed the tradition and celebration of local culture and pride that I saw in my community throughout the Holy Week celebrations. Throughout the ceremonies I assumed the role of local photographer and promised to share these traditions with you fine folks here on my blog.
I hope you enjoy the fotos.
PS: My internet connection is loading this fotos super slowly so I’ll try to get the rest posted at a later date. Sorry it’s taken so long!