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Semana Santa in Mexico

by May Herz

The passion play of Iztapalapa is one of the most popular and one of the biggest, most important religious celebrations in Mexico and in the world.

In just one day, more than a million visitors come to a small district to watch a 150-year-old tradition. What is behind this event? What motivates the inhabitants to go through this representation with so much dedication? What does it mean?

Semana Santa: Easter In Mexico

Semana Santa in Mexico Nazareno

Iztapalapa is a small district south of Mexico City, an ordinary neighborhood like any other, with its main plaza and its church. It has perhaps, the same problems as other districts (or colonias, as they are called) but something sets it apart from the others: a very special fiesta in which everyone takes part, where no one, no matter how small, is left out.

During Easter Week, each inhabitant abandons his normal life as a laborer, student or housewife, and forgets his daily tensions and conflicts. All the townspeople come together with a common goal, and become actors representing Jesus, the Virgin Mary, the Nazarenes, the guards, the apostles, and the people of a town that existed thousands of years before. The entire community becomes the cast and the streets, the stage!

In recreating the passion and death of Christ, not one person is a professional actor, but this doesn’t matter, the purpose is to offer all of one’s energy to God, observing the Catholic tradition as closely as possible, with suffering and courage, but above all, with a great deal of enthusiasm and love.

Semana Santa in Mexico

The Passion of Iztapalapa was first performed a long time ago, in the year 1833, when a cholera epidemic laid the region low and the majority of the population died. Only a few people survived.

In thanks, and as an act of faith in the Lord of the Cave, a statue of Christ that was venerated in this place, the survivors gave the first performance of the Passion of Christ. A few actors began the tradition, without costumes or horses, and much less stage props, but being able to offer something to the Savior,  that is what was important.

Year after year, intent of making the presentation better and better, the people of the town began to organize in order to create costumes in keeping with ancient custom, representing each of the biblical passages more faithfully, including the tears and suffering.

The main reason for this presentation is to give thanks to God for having saved the community so long ago. Each of the participants, however, also has a personal reason for gratitude, and is very proud to be able to take part with the rest of town.

Although the event lasts only a few days, the preparations begin several months in advance; everything must be ready for the first Sunday after Holy Week.

There is an Organizing Committee, formed by the inhabitants of Iztapalapa themselves, people who have taken part for several years and are highly respected in the community. They are in charge of choosing the actors who will play the main roles of Christ, the Virgin Mary and Pontius Pilate. Many people want a role, but they have to meet the prerequisites such as height, age civil status and above all, impeccable conduct.

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