Unbound stories

Colorful festivities mark Holy Week in Guatemala

April 11, 2014

Holy Week
In 2014, the city of Antigua, Guatemala, is expected to attract about
200,000 tourists for Holy Week.

The food, decorations and devotions that are part of Holy Week in Guatemala make a cornucopia for the senses.

For Dora Hernandez, a translator for Unbound in Guatemala, Holy Week is a time to celebrate her faith and culture.

And it's an impressive sensory experience.

"The mixture of the smells of incense, palm, fireworks, pine needles, moistened sawdust, fresh tropical fruits, flower arrangements, grilled fish and tamales is amazing," Dora said.

One of the wonderful benefits of sponsoring a child or elder is forming a friendship with someone from another culture and learning about that person's traditions.

As a staffer since 2006, Dora translates letters from sponsored friends and sponsors. She has seen countless letters in which they share their traditions with each other.

Scott Wasserman, president and chief executive officer of Unbound, said such sharing deepens friendships.

"Your friendship gives hope to your sponsored friend," Scott said. "Sharing cultural traditions helps you and your sponsored friend to know and respect each other."

Dora Hernandez, translator for Unbound, Guatemala.

Holy Week, the week before Easter (April 13-19 this year), is a time of prayer and gratitude, Dora said.

"This is a very spiritual time of the year for our country."

Tourists flock to Guatemala during Holy Week, or Semana Santa, to take part in the rich traditions. Guatemala is especially known for the colorful carpets that line Holy Week processions.

Dora sees a strong connection between Unbound's work and the liberating, life-giving message of Easter.

"Unbound is also bringing liberation to those in need," she said. "It is providing dignity for the families.

"Sponsorship provides a path for their liberation from poverty, not only to have more but be more."

Carpets line Holy Week processions

Dora and her family have a special way of celebrating Holy Week. They make colorful carpets used to line the routes of processions.

The carpets are made of colored sawdust, fresh flowers, pine needles and other natural materials. They're offered as a way to give thanks as the image of Jesus passes through.

Colorful carpets made of natural materials line the routes of
processions for Holy Week in Guatemala.

"It's also part of our tradition, our culture, our unique way of celebrating and decorating our community this time of year," Dora said.

Dora's family prepares to make their carpet two to three months before Holy Week. They create designs hand carved from wood in the shapes of flowers, religious figures or patterns. About 10 hours before the procession, they create the carpet.

"We start [with] a thick layer of white sand and then we spread out a layer of natural colored sawdust," Dora said. "Then we start creating our design with colored sawdust and natural materials."

People usually make carpets the length of their homes.

"But there are carpets the size of a whole street," Dora said. "So five or up to 100 people can get involved in making a carpet."

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