Spring is upon us and Easter is near! In the U.S., nearly eighty percent of the population celebrates the Easter holiday. Many associate Easter with a season of chocolate bunnies, children’s egg hunts, pastel colors, time off work, and increased attendance at church. In Latin America, 69% of adults identify as Catholic (which represents 40% of the world’s total Catholic population!) according to the Pew Research Center, so naturally the Easter season is a prominent part of the culture. It is the most important holiday of the Christian church calendar, commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and arguably it is the most widely observed holiday across the region.
However, while Latin America is characteristically Christian, Easter is celebrated very differently than in the U.S. Throughout the region, Easter Sunday itself is not the focus, but rather the entire week—Semana Santa (Holy Week). Traditionally, everything revolves around the image of Jesus during this time. Altars can be found, and processions observed from town squares, to churches, to people’s homes. In many countries, employees have off work starting with Holy Wednesday or Maundy Thursday. This long weekend lasting 4-5 days is often the longest stretch of consecutive guaranteed time off the entire year. In certain areas, this is also the hottest season— their summer—and thus many people take to the coast or other holiday destinations. While the beaches tend to be packed for Semana Santa, there are a number of other ways that Latin Americans celebrate.
In some countries, there are specific traditional foods that are enjoyed only during the Easter season. In Nicaragua, cheese soup (sopa de queso) is widely advertised in restaurants from Ash Wednesday throughout Lent and Holy Week. In Venezuela, people eat pastel de chucho (a layered dish with potatoes, plantains and fish) and pisillo de cazón, which is similar to pulled pork, but uses fish instead. In Mexico, chiles rellenos, or stuffed peppers, are common. These dishes stem from the Christian tradition of not eating red meat or pork on Fridays during this Lent. Many countries also have special beverages or sweet treats that are made and consumed exclusively during the Easter season.
Processions, Plazas, and Parties
Many Latin American cities and towns have central plazas that feature a large church. During Semana Santa, these plazas are filled with celebratory activities. People gather to take part in religious parades, carry out the Via Crucis, or Stations of the Cross, and share typical food and drink. In the Llanos region of Venezuela, people flock from all over the country to participate in barbecues, fairs, and other festivities.
The UNESCO World Heritage site and colonial town of Antigua, Guatemala, is a very popular destination for religious tourism as well and attracts over a million people every year to participate in local celebrations. There is a series of processions that take place throughout the week across the town, each one with a particular theme. For these processions, intricate “alfombras” (rugs) made of brightly dyed sawdust, flowers, fruit, and leaves are painstakingly laid out in the road using stencils with elaborate designs. Certain streets close the night before each given procession, and people work through the early morning hours to complete the giant rugs. The next day, they are walked over by crowds of people as they form part of the processional routes, which include massive floats featuring religious imagery (like giant mobile sculptures) which are carried on the shoulders of up to 80 men, who are dressed in traditional purple robes.
Influencing U.S Culture and Workplace
Across Latin America, Semana Santa is a very meaningful time of year. For those who have migrated to the U.S., adapting to new cultural traditions can be very challenging. If your workforce is comprised of Latino employees, take note that this multi-day holiday is important to them. They could be missing out on large gatherings if they have family living in Latin America, and they may be accustomed to having this time off work.
To foster an inclusive workplace, pause and take time to learn about your employees’ culture and traditions and how they normally celebrate this special holiday. And be culturally responsive, by adapting, as much as possible, your work routines. For instance, adjust the schedule so those employees that observe Semana Santa have the time off; educate the rest of the team on the importance of the holiday; host appropriate team events, whether potlucks or happy hours to commemorate the holiday.
In short, it’s about appreciating people and what is important to them. So, make yourself some cheese soup and explore how to commemorate Semana Santa here in your own organization.