Semana Santa

Panama is a predominately Catholic country and Semana Santa or Easter Week is a very important celebration to those people who identify themselves as Christian.  It’s estimated that 75 to 85 percent of the people recognise themselves as Roman Catholic and 15 to 25 percent as evangelical Christian.

For Catholics, Lent, the period leading up to Semana Santa began on Ash Wednesday, February 13th.  Lent is known for 40 days of fasting, prayers and penance, in reflection of what happened during the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ.  The devout will fast by eating only one main meal each day and abstain from eating any meat.

Last Friday was The Friday of Sorrows. This is a day of devotion to the Virgin Mary, with particular attention to her pain at the loss of her son. Altars are set up in churches and homes in honor of the Virgin of Sorrows.  I mentioned in a earlier post that there has been a procession going through town every Friday of Lent.  They sing hymns and stop at each house that has a cross erected in a bucket of sand in front of it.

Sunday was Palm Sunday and many of the houses around town were decorated with large palm frond and pieces of fuchsia Bougainvillea tied around the pillars. Palm Sunday is the beginning of Semana Santa. It reminds Christians of the journey Jesus made into Jerusalem, on a donkey, to celebrate the Jewish festival of Passover (Pesach). The people welcomed Jesus waving palm branches and throwing them down in his path.  People in our burg lined the town square waving fronds as the priest walked a procession.  There was a large pile awaiting collection on Monday morning.  Every evening the church bell has rung at 6:00 to remind parishioners that prayers begin at 7:00 when the bell rings again.

Jueves Santo, Maundy Thursday or Passion Thursday which is today commemorates Jesus Christ’s institution of the Eucharist during the Last Supper. On the night before his death Jesus had a last meal with his friends. Before this meal Jesus washed the feet of every person, a task that was normally done by a servant. He wanted to show his followers that they should love one another in humble ways.

I drove around looking for Gerardo but didn’t see his truck today anywhere.  I know he’s involved in his church so perhaps he didn’t come in today.  No worries, we didn’t need much and when I asked the storekeeper at one tienda, he said that he hadn’t seen him.      I noticed that there are once again several tourists and our local tiendas were very busy.  When we were walking on the beach the other day there were several people with camp sites already set up.  Our little burg sees an influx of visitors for this the last holiday of the summer when a lot of people come from all over to vacation at the beaches.  This is the last big holiday before all the Independence Days in November that go practically all month. It’s estimated that there will be an influx of vacationers with more than 300,000 people traveling within the country.  The city will be pretty quiet.

Some of the businesses will only be operating for a half day today and all will close tomorrow, Good Friday or Viernes Santo, a national holiday.  Bars, cantinas, bodegas, nightclubs and grills will close from 12:01 a.m. to midnight tomorrow. Alcohol sales are also prohibited as is playing loud music. Businesses that violate the law face a fine.  Catholic tradition dictates that no one should eat red meat tomorrow so the sales of fish will be brisk and there will be several people out at the ocean’s edge today and tomorrow trying to catch their supper.  Today while I was in the store several people were buying stew meat but it was early so maybe it was for supper tonight.  Good Friday commemorates Jesus Christ’s Passion, crucifixion and death.  There will be a parade which we will try to go see.  It will probably involve much music and a procession of the statue of Christ.

I’ve asked around to a couple of people (remember this is still a year of firsts for us) and apparently at midnight Friday all hell breaks loose in town.  All week has been relatively quiet, even the cantina has only been open one night and it’s quiet again today.  Saturday everything will be pretty much the same again except with more people around.

Easter Sunday or La Pascua de Resurrección is the last celebration of Semana Santa.  This is a day of great importance that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is a day of rejoicing and merriment. One of my amigas explained it to me as a day to “Bailar, bailar, bailar”.   Dance, dance, dance, and I imagine a few fireworks will be thrown in.  After all this is the campo.

The Bishop of Panama recently sent out this message to the faithful.  Whether you are a person of faith, whether you believe in a higher power or not and regardless of your feelings about the Catholic Church I believe that there is a message for all of us in his words:

The Bishop Ulloa said that we live the central events of our faith, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“I invite the Panamanians to that between death, we choose life, between hatred choose peace, and between pride choose humility.”

Archbishop of Panama was emphatic in stating that there is “a week of tourism”, or “a week off,” but the true believers take the week to reflect on two attitudes: the meaning of life and freedom from fear.

“We are not alone, God is with us.”

“We have to be serious, it’s not week to be at noisy parties, it is week of silence, because in silence we can only hear the voice of our conscience and the voice of God,” he said.

The Bishop Ulloa argued that for that reason we cannot stand the silence because it is the voice of our conscience that says if we really are the way we should be and if we are truly happy.

And a video for those of you curious about some of the traditions, the taking down of the crucifix from a Panamanian church on Viernes Santo for the procession:


About indacampo

You'll find me at blogging about Panama...and other things.
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3 Responses to Semana Santa

  1. Allison says:

    I am sure you have heard that the Bridge of Americas was shut down (and may still be) due to a gasoline truck on fire! Oy vey! Where will everyone go, and how will they get there!?

    • indacampo says:

      Yes, read about it on Panama Digest. It looks like it may take a while to get it cleared up. I guess they’ll be rerouting everyone to Puente Centenario. I like the view of the Culebra Cut from there but I pity anyone trying to travel out of the city today!


  2. Kris says:

    Thanks for another post full of good information! I figured tomorrow is Good Friday because Sunday is Easter. Everything else has been explained to me in Spanish though so I wasn’t totally clear on some of the details. Here there hasn’t been anything going on that I’m aware of except all my neighbors weren’t working today. It will be interesting to see what goes on through the rest of the weekend.

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