For Bolivia, Holy Week (Semana Santa) is a holiday with a deep spiritual meaning. The churches are at the center of the celebration at this predominantly Catholic country in South America. From the beginning of Holy Week on Palm Sunday, churches organize many rituals, processions, and activities during the final week of Lent.
Bolivians also have a tradition of cooking 12 special dishes during the most important days of Semana Santa. These dishes don't include meat, which shouldn't be consumed during Lent. But there's plenty of fish and seafood. These dishes include delicious soups, such as Sopa de papa pica (potato soup), shrimp soup, escariote soup, bread soup, and kidney bean chili. Vegetable treats include Sajta de papalize, Ch’uma de lacayote, and Carbonada, made of potatoes and pumpkins.
Semana Santa traditions
On Palm Sunday, people braid crosses from palm leaves and bring them to churches for blessing. Good Friday is marked by solemn and poignant processions, mourning the crucifixion of Jesus. On Saturday, On the Bolivians build arches decorated with roses as well as make amazing floral carpets for the processions, celebrating the resurrection of Cjrist. Church-goers usually wears their best clothes and the air is filled with amazing floral aromas.
Sucre is one of the best cities to visit during the Holy Week. The festivities start with a few processions on Palm Sunday, when thousands of believers carry palm leaves from the Cathedral to Plaza 25 de Mayo and back to the Cathedral for a sermon. The second palm-laden procession starts at San Sebastian and ends at the San Francisco Basilica.
On Holy Thursday, the priests perform the ritual of washing the feet of hundreds of believers in Sucre Cathedral. This ceremony is followed by The Mass of the Lord’s Supper. On Thursday, many devotees go up Churuquella Hill. Starting for the service, which starts at dusk and culminates at midnight near the statue of Christ the Redeemer. The ascent goes along 12 Stations the Cross. Devotees stay at the summit until they get a blessing at 5.30 am.
On Good Friday, Sucre holds the Holy Sepulchre Procession, which starts at 5 pm at the Temple of San Lázaro, making its way to Plaza 25 de Mayo and back.
More Good Friday processions can be witnessed in La Paz. Effigies of the suffering Jesus Christ and his faithful mother float across the streets of La Paz on heavy wooden platforms carried by devotees dressed in dramatic robes and hoods. The sorrowful procession is followed by large masses of Bolivians, each holding a flickering candle. In one of Bolivia's largest cities, 95% of the population identify themselves as Roman Catholics, expressing much vigor in mourning the passions of Jesus Christ, the tormenting death, and miraculous resurrection.
In addition to La Paz, it's worth visiting Jesuit Missions towns, set up during Spanish colonization. San Ignacio de Moxos, San Javier, and Concepción are especially interesting during Easter week. Beautiful old churches hold services accompanied with baroque music, reminding of old times.
The most important three days of Easter are called "Triduo Pascual", and each day is marked by a procession. Jesuit Mission towns Vallegrande and Samaipata hold especially colorful and traditional ceremonies on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Resurrection Sunday. For some, the special mystic atmosphere might be a great occasion to feel the essence of Christianity and get to know it better. For believers, it is another opportunity to live through the ancient events once again and celebrate Easter while traveling.