Holy Week In Latin America #1 Essential Vocabulary Guide

Holy Week passed, and while having family gatherings, I thought about creating a glossary with Spanish words and phrases related to the Holy Week in Latin America. It is a perfect cultural guide for all of you eager to visit the continent and be part of its religious festivities.

Each Latin American country has its traditions for celebrating Holy Week. A religious period is a time of reflection and faith for many people, as well as an occasion to be close to family members.

The death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth can be seen reflected in the traditions of the Roman Catholic countries of Latin America. In today’s post, you will go through a journey of religious insight, including the most important celebrations and their meanings.

At the same time, you will also get to learn words and phrases about the Holy Week to increase your Spanish knowledge. Next time you travel during this season, you will be much more in touch with the cultural significance of the religious festivity.


What Is Holy Week? (Semana Santa)

Holy Week (La Semana Santa), also known in Spanish as ‘Semana Mayor’ (Great Week), is eight days that begin with Palm Sunday and end with Easter Sunday. The days of this week are known as ‘Los días Santos’ (the Holy Days).
This holiday is, in fact, the most significant period for Roman Christians. It is a festival that recalls the last moments of Jesus Christ. Beginning with the Passion (La Pasión), when he arrived in Jerusalem acclaimed by the people as the Savior, followed by his Procession with the cross, death, burial, and resurrection.


When Is Holy Week Celebrated?

Following the liturgical calendar, Holy Week can occur in March or April, between the Lent period (Cuaresma) and the Easter period (Pascua). For example, this year, the holy week began on Sunday, April 10, 2022, and ended on Sunday, April 17, 2022. The period before Holy Week was the time of repentance and fasting, known as Lent.


The 8 Holy Days (Días Santos)

El Domingo De Ramos (Palm Sunday)

Holy Week in Latin America

Palm Sunday or ‘Domingo de Ramos commemorates the day on which Jesus triumphantly arrived in Jerusalem and was acclaimed by all the people as their Savior before being crucified five days later under the power of Pontius Pilate.

Seeing him arrive, the people in Jerusalem began to sing and praise him with joy. Those who received it also carried bouquets of plants and palms, so it became a tradition for the faithful to bring palm branches to Mass for the priests to bless them. After being blessed, people hung them at their doors to bless their homes. 

In addition to this tradition, during Palm Sunday, the most faithful people attend the Mass to listen to the story of the Passion of Christ during the Eucharist.

Lunes Santo (Holy Monday)

Holy Week in Latin America

On Holy Monday, the faithful remember the anointing of Jesus in Bethany, in the house of Lazarus, whom Jesus resurrected. Mary of Bethany, one of Lazarus’ sisters, anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive Nard aromatic ointment or perfume.

This day also commemorates the expulsion of the merchants from the temple in Jerusalem. Returning after seeing Lazarus, Jesus finds the temple of prayer to God converted into a house of trade, for which he furiously cast out everyone from the place, pronouncing: “My house shall be called the house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves”—(Saint Matthew)

Martes Santo (Holy Tuesday)

Holy Week in Latin America

Also known in English as Fig Tuesday, it is the day of preparation for the Paschal Triduum, which refers to the three days of Easter. It is the time when people reflect on the ‘Stations of the Cross’ that Jesus experienced on his way to Calvary.

According to the Bible accounts, Jesus announced his death to his disciples and especially addressed Judas Iscariot for his betrayal and Peter, the Apostle, for the denials he was about to commit.

Miércoles Santo (Holy Wednesday/Good Wednesday)

Holy Week in Latin America

On this day, Lent ends, and the most important period of Holy Week, the spiritual period of Easter, officially begins. 

This day commemorates the day the Apostle Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus by handing him over to the Sanhedrin (Jewish Council) in exchange for money. However, each Gospel of the Bible explains his reasons differently, without clarifying if it was really for the money or if he had a deeper reason.

Jueves Santo (Holy Thursday/Maundy Thursday)

Holy Week in Latin America

During Maundy Thursday, the religious people remember the Last Supper of Jesus with his apostles, where he shared bread and wine with them, which symbolizes the institution of the Eucharist and the legacy of the priesthood. During that day, Jesus washed the feet of his apostles, leaving the meaningful teaching of always being helpful to others.

After The Last Supper, when Jesus Christ went to pray all night in the Garden of Olives, the soldiers came to apprehend him because Judas Iscariot revealed his location.

Viernes Santo (Holy Friday/Good Friday)

Holy Week in Latin America

It is the first day of the Easter Triduum, which recalls the incarceration of Christ, the interrogations of King Herod and Pontius Pilate, the scourging, the crowning with thorns, and the crucifixion.

Masses are not celebrated on this day, but the faithful Christians reflect and ask for penance for their sins. In addition, people practice fasting and abstinence in several countries. A tradition that has been slowly fading away in newer generations.

Sábado De Gloria/Sábado Santo (Saturday Of The Glory/Holy Saturday)

Saturday Of The Glory.  The Pietà

The day before Easter is Holy Saturday or Saturday of Glory. It is a time of mourning, silence, and enormous respect because people remember the day Jesus died on the cross, and the loneliness of his mother, Mary, after having seen him suffer.

Holy Saturday commemorates events that did not happen on earth. After he died, Jesus descended into hell to take all the souls who had ever believed in him with him to heaven, including Saints.

Churches do not ring bells and Eucharist is not celebrated on this day. However, at dawn, the churches turn on candles and host ceremonies to celebrate the Easter Vigil, which commemorates the Resurrection of Jesus.

Domingo De Resurrección/ Domingo De Pascua (Sunday Of Resurrection/Easter Sunday)

Sunday of Resurrection

At the end of the week, we celebrate Easter or Resurrection Sunday. It is the happiest day when devotees remember that Jesus defeated death and went up to heaven into eternal life.


Spanish Phrases Related To Holy Week In Latin America

La Cuaresma —(Lent)

Arrastre de Caudas —(The Dragging of the Capes)

El vía Crucis —(Way of the Cross/Stations of the Cross)

El Viernes de Dolores —(Friday of Sorrows) To recognize the suffering of Mary.

Procesión Jesús del Gran Poder —(Procession Jesus of the Great Power) In the historic downtown of Quito, Ecuador, every Holy Friday the Procession to remember the death of Jesus takes place. It is one of the most representative and famous Catholic processions worldwide.

Procesión del Silencio en San Luis de Potosí —(Procession of Silence in San Luis Potosí) During Good Friday in San Luis Potosí, Mexico, people make a procession with religious images to refer to Mary mourning her son.

La Pasión de Cristo —(Passion of Christ) A tradition in Iztapalapa, Mexico, where a young man represents the last moments of Jesus’ life.

Nazareno de San Pablo —(Nazarene of San Pablo) A procession in Venezuela to venerate a sculpture of Christ dressed in a purple tunic.

Triduo Pascual —(Paschal Triduum) The three days of Easter.

El Lunes de Pascua —(Easter Monday) The day after Easter Sunday.

El Miércoles de Ceniza —(Ash Wednesday) It marks the beginning of the 40 days of Lent before Easter. People go to church to get a cross of ashes on their foreheads.

La Rosca de Pascua —(Easter cake) A bread eaten mainly in Argentina.

El Paso —(The literal translation is ‘step,’ representing the Procession of religious floats held across Latin America.)

Vigilia Pascual —(Easter Vigil – Vigilia is the action of being awake with candles.)


Catholic Religion And Holy Week Vocabulary

Catholic Church
  • Iglesia/Iglesias —(Church/Churches)
  • Sacerdote —(Priest)
  • Padre —(Father) A term to address a Priest in Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Latin America.
  • Cura —(Priest)
  • Religión —(Religion)
  • Católico/Católicos —(Catholic/Catholics)
  • Cristiano —(Christian) Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah and the son of God.
  • Mesías —(Hebrew: Mašíaḥ/Messiah – ‘Anointed One’)
  • Cristo —(‘Christ’ from the Greek chrīstós, also meaning ‘Anointed One’)
  • Imágen de Cristo —(Image of Christ)
  • Eucaristía — (Eucharist) A religious ceremony of the Catholic Church to celebrate the sacrament of Eucharist and the memorial of the Death and resurrection of Jesus.
  • La Pasión —(Passion) Refers to agony and suffering.
  • La Cofradía —(Brotherhood of Catholic parish. ‘Cofradía’ means brotherhood or fraternity.)
  • La Crucifixión de Cristo —(Crucifixion of Christ)
  • La Muerte —(Death)
  • La Resurrección —(Resurrection)
  • Calvario —(Calvary)
  • Devoción —(Devotion)
  • Cucuruchos —(The Italian ‘Cucuruccio‘ is paper or cardboard rolled into a conical shape. The people dressed in purple, and conical-shaped clothing at the ‘Procession Jesus of the Great Power’ in Ecuador are known as ‘Cucuruchos.’)
  • El Salvador —(The Savior)
  • Procesiones/Procesión —(Processions/Procession)
  • Pascua —(Easter)
  • La Pascua de Resurrección —(Easter of the Resurrection/The word ‘Pascua’ comes from the Hebrew ‘Pessach,’ in English, ‘Passover,’ which can refer to any Holy Day.)
  • Conejo de Pascua —(Easter Bunny)


What Can We Eat During Holy Week?

Fanesca Ecuador

There are also catholic traditions regarding food during Holy Week. In ancient times, fasting was the main part of this festival. Although there is no longer a requirement to help today, there are still restrictions on what we can and cannot eat these days, which we are taught from a very young age.

We do not eat meat, except for fish. Therefore, many countries have created special and typical dishes that have become an icon of the season.

For example, in Ecuador, we eat the ‘Fanesca,’ an exquisite traditionally indigenous stew from the Andes, made with cod (bacalao) and cooked with 12 types of grains representing the 12 apostles of Jesus. It is served with little balls of dough, cod pieces (for those who like it), egg, and homemade pickles (encurtidos). 

It is an important tradition in many Ecuadorean families to gather during Easter Sunday to eat Fanesca.

Likewise, it is customary to serve empanadas stuffed with fish and vegetables in other Latin countries, such as the delicious ‘Argentine vigils’ or Chilean seafood empanadas, corn tamales, or chili with cheese in Mexico. In addition to the famous Easter chocolate eggs, which are becoming more and more popular across the continent.


Do You Want To Experience Holy Week? 

Whether you are a Christian or not, a holiday like this is certainly something you should experience at least once in a lifetime. You can head to nations with ingrained traditions, where you will feel as if you are traveling through time just by watching a procession that represents the day of the crucifixion of Christ.

For example, in the historical center of Quito, Ecuador, many events have existed for more than 500 years. But one particular tradition has impacted me and stayed in my mind since a very young age. The ‘Procesión de Jesús del Gran Poder.’

The image of Christ carrying his cross and the ‘cucuruchos‘ who come out with their purple suit covering them from head to toe to remain anonymous, barefoot, walking through the rocky streets to expel their sins, it’s quite a experience. Even if you don’t share the religion, these images stick in your mind. It is simply mesmerizing to see. 

Cucuruchos Ecuador

There are also many other religious traditions around Spanish-speaking countries that wrap you in the history and faith of their people. But it is when you experience it by firsthand, that you feel amazed by how much this festivity and other religious traditions mean to the Catholic people of the South American continent.


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