The celebration of Easter in Mexico is a big deal—huge. For the devout and even those who are mildly religious (Mexico is 87% Catholic, so that's almost everyone), the week preceding and the week following Easter Sunday are a combination of the year’s most holy times for worship and most important holiday time for family events.
One of the most spectacular events of the year at Lakeside is the week-long Ajijic passion play which depicts the last days of Christ. This beloved local tradition was resurrected in the 1980s when a group of young men decided to recreate the town's former Semana Santa customs.
Eduardo Ramos Cordero (Lalo) and his companions began by researching the clothing and details of the Biblical stories of the events during the last week of Christ and then Lalo wrote a script and the group started planning scenes that they could portray. Nearly 40 years later Lalo is still directing his friends and dozens of other townspeople in a Semana Santa (Holy Week) theatrical extravaganza.
Viernes Santo (Holy or Good Friday)
The front of Ajijic's San Andres Church is transformed into the opulent palace of King Herod for Friday's trial of Jesus as the passion play resumes on Friday morning.
The local townspeople take honor in portraying the cast mentioned in the Bible. Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary are there, along with wonderfully costumed early Christians and complacent Roman townspeople and authority figures.
The human statues and fountains that decorate the palace of Herod are Ajijic's younger residents covered in gold, standing motionless in classic poses.
The Roman soldiers fend off the angry uprising of the people in the mob who cry, "Crucify Him" in response to the offer to release Jesus. The action is as real as the players can provide in the annual event. As Jesus is scourged by the Romans' whips, sometimes real blood dots his back as one of the men with the whips miscalculates and actually strikes the actor. Trickles of stage blood dot his head under the crown of thorns.
Carrying the Cross to the Crucifiction
The hand hewn cross carried by Jesus through the streets of Ajijic and up onto the mountain is said to weigh between 80 and 90 kilos or nearly 200 pounds.
When he picks up the huge cross to carry it through the village and up onto the mountain to the site of his crucifixion, spectators are visibly moved.
On the mountain, Jesus is hung between two thieves to die. As he speaks from the cross, weakens and dies, the agony and grief in the crowd is palatable, heavy and real. Subdued, most of the crowd disperses but his mourners remain on the mountain with him until nightfall. Then, as Jesus said in his last words, "It is over."
You'll find that it doesn't matter that none of the participants are professional actors. Each participant offers all of their energy to God, taking great personal pride in the sacrifices of time, energy and money needed to accurately fulfill their role. Each participant observes the Catholic tradition of the story of Christ's passion as closely as possible. Their suffering and courage is mixed with a great deal of enthusiasm, soul and love.
If you plan to attend 11 a.m. Friday's trial and crucifixion be sure to arrive prepared to be in the heat and sun and the possibility of standing for the length of the performance in the heat and the sun. Bring a folding chair if you have difficulty standing for a long period of time. There is no shade, so be sure to wear a hat that will protect your face, neck, and eyes. Apply sunscreen frequently throughout the day. Carry plenty of drinking water. Remember that the full sun, time of day, and altitude are a combination of conditions that cause rapid and serious sunburn and dehydration.
The Procession of Silence
The year's most moving and emotional procession is held in each of Lakeside’s villages on Friday night. In Ajijic, townspeople gather at 9 p.m. and move in absolute silence through the streets of town. In sharp contrast to other processions which are punctuated by sky rockets, the music of the town's brass band, and the dramatic pealing of church bells, in this pilgrimage the only sounds are the mournful slow cadence of a single drum and the quiet shuffling of the feet on the cobblestones. At the head of the group, banners proclaim, "Silence! Jesus is dead."
Throughout the somber crowd, village people carry signs listing the sins for which Jesus died.
This is a solemn, quiet, very serious and moving event. Please do not chat, smoke or drink as the people pass by.
See the other events of Semana Santa in our previous posts:
Maunday Thursday The Passion of Christ Begins: Jesus and the disciples celebrate the Last Supper, the washing of the feet and then retreat to the mountain to pray. There Jesus is arrested and marched to the plaza where the drama continues.
Celebrating Palm Sunday: Jesus and the disciples enter the village on a carpet of alfalfa laid over the cobblestones. The townspeople following waving boughs of camomile, rosemary and palms.
The Feast of the Virgin of Dolores: Mary, the mother of Jesus is called the Virgin of Dolores (the Virgin of Sorrows) as she appears during the Passion of Christ. She is remembered with home altars on the last Friday of Lent; as neighbors visit they say, “Has the Virgin Wept Here.”