Holy Week (Semana Santa) in Nicaragua

Holy Week (Semana Santa) in Nicaragua

In Nicaragua, the combination of strong Catholic traditions and a celebrative character make the Holy Week celebrations one of the most commemorative events of the year. It is a time of many processions for several weeks before Easter. During Semana Santa Nicaragua commemorates the death and resurrection of Jesus. These celebrations take place at the end of March or at the beginning of April. During Holy Week, many people participate in processions that are inspired by biblical passages. These processions take place throughout Nicaragua, in most towns and cities, organized by the Catholic Church. Semana Santa is the busiest week of the whole year for the religious community. Some of the many processions follow below:

Stations of the Cross

The Stations of the Cross processions take place every Friday during the Season of Lent (the forty-day period before Easter), culminating on Good Friday. Every Friday during the Lent Season, the priests and the parishioners lead the statue of Jesus and walk the streets while singing canticles making stops at local homes in the town or city, where altars for Jesus have been set up. Sometimes the statue will be placed in the home, while the people pray, sing, and make requests. By making donations to the church, people can request the procession to stop at their home. The priest selects the houses where the procession will stop. There is also competition between the churches for many of these processions.

Stations of the Cross in the Islands

Another interesting variation is organized by the people living among the islands of Granada. Instead of walking down the streets during the Stations of the Cross, the people of this community use boats and instead of stopping at fourteen houses, the boats dock in front of fourteen small ports at certain pre-selected islands.
This started 20 years ago when a priest and the community decided to start an improvised version of the processions. This variation has become a regular procession and every year more people participate, including people from other areas and even foreigners. Dozens of boats and small canoes accompany the statue of Jesus along the way.

Service of Darkness

On the morning of Good Friday many churches organize a procession known as Santo Entierro or Service of Darkness or Service of Shadows, symbolizing Jesus’ death and burial. This is a very solemn procession, accompanied by a drum roll and wind instruments that symbolize funeral songs. In the churches, Jesus’ statue is placed in a casket then carried around on the street followed by silent worshipers who often carry candles or torches.

The Reunion

This is a procession full of music and joy. From one church the statue of Jesus starts its procession, while another church starts a procession with a statue of Mary then the two processes meet in a certain part of the city. These processions symbolize Jesus reuniting with Mary after his resurrection and when they meet, the people show joy with music and prayers. The two processions will then return to their respectivechurches. These processions take place on the final day of Holy Week, on Easter day.

The Baptism

Protestants, known in Nicaragua as the Evangelists, do not share the same Catholic traditions but they have their own celebrations during Holy Week. Some different faiths of Christian Protestants, group together and transport themselves in bus to beaches, rivers, lagoons, etc. The people will then enter the water, pray, and baptize new members of their churches.

Morava Tradition

In Bluefields and other cities on the Caribbean Coast, a major part of the population practices the Morava religion. Catholics from this region celebrate the Holy Week with similar processions as the rest of the country. However, Moravas have a well-known tradition on Holy Sunday or Resurrection Sunday, when people gather in graveyards to attend a mass, and to clean up the burial grounds or tombs of their family and ancestors. This is similar to the other Nicaraguan tradition of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) of November 2nd.

Pilgrim Carts

This is one of my favorites. Ox-pulled carts start to arrive at the Guanacaste junction in the city of Nandaime two weeks before Holy Week. The carts arrive one by one or sometimes in long caravans. They come from different places in Nicaragua: Carazo, Masaya, Granada, and Rivas. It is a slow caravan which can infuriate drivers trying to get by. The long line of carts sometimes takes four days to reach the Popoyupa sanctuary, located in San Jorge, Rivas where an open-air mass is held. The purpose of the pilgrimage is to show thankfulness and faith to the image of Nuestro Señor del Rescate de Popoyuapa, whom they acknowledge for previous miracles that happened in their live.

Dog Day – San Lázaro (Lazarus)

On the second to last Sunday before the beginning of Holy Week, hundreds of dogs of all types are brought to the Santa María Magdalena parish church in the Monimbó neighborhood of Masaya. These dogs arrive wearing various forms of dress from the simple to the elegant

This strange event takes place during the celebration of San Lázaro (Lazarus) in Masaya. The owners and their dogs arrive early in the morning at the church where benches have been removed and the floor is covered by sand to make cleaning afterwards easier. At 10AM a mass is held in honor of Lazarus and if too many people come then some of the participants join the mass from outside the church.

People from many other parts of Nicaragua with their dressed up pets to show thankfulness or to ask for miracles for their family or friends, and of course, to ask for miracles for the dogs as well. The participation of the dogs is based on the biblical passages where dogs were said to lick the sores of Lazarus.