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Easter around the world


Easter around the world

For many families in the United States, Easter celebrations may include sunrise service, family dinner, and baskets full of treats. But in some places around the world, Easter traditions are quite different. We asked a few of our cross-cultural witnesses to share what Holy Week looks like where they live.


Ronnie and Angi Hopkins

Easter in Nicaragua is called Semana Santa (Holy Week). Nicaragua’s predominant religion is Catholicism, and Semana Santa is one of the most important holidays in the country. Most cities have processions during which they carry statues of Jesus and various saints. Many larger cities have their own specific celebrations. In an indigenous part of Masaya, the people honor St. Lazarus. St. Lazarus is considered the protector of animals and of the sick. The Sunday before Semana Santa, people dress their dogs (mostly puppies) up in colorful costumes and bring them to mass at the Magdalena Church in Masaya. During the service, the dogs are passed by the statue of St. Lazarus, and the owners ask for the health of their pets.

Most people have vacation during Semana Santa, and it is very common to spend some time at the beach or at a lake. If the family cannot afford time at the beach, they buy a small inflatable pool and cool off in that. Popular foods for Semana Santa are sopa de queso (cheese soup), tamales, and pinol de iguana (ground corn with iguana).

Costa Rica

Beth Tatum

Roman Catholicism is the official state religion in Costa Rica, and Easter Holy Week is one of the most important holidays.

It begins on Palm Sunday and celebrates the death and resurrection of Christ. For many people Semana Santa is an important time for worship and for honoring their family members.

Until recently, nearly the entire country shut down for a week. Those closures are now more common starting on the Thursday before Easter until Saturday, and it is business as usual on Easter Sunday.

Holy Thursday and Good Friday are official holidays, so businesses are closed and people are urged to sit back and reflect on their sins. Until several years ago, vehicle traffic was strictly prohibited starting on Holy Thursday. It was common to see people walk, ride horses, or stay at home. If people saw traffic on the streets, they might throw rocks at the cars or buses.

Catholic churches in every town organize masses and different parades throughout the week. One of the parades highlights Jesus’ journey to the cross with a depiction of Jesus lying in burial clothes. Participants dress like the Roman soldiers who traveled with Jesus in His final hours. Those participants vow that they have lived the past year sin-free and followed the teachings of the Catholic church.

Another type of parade is known as Quema de Judas (the burning of Judas), or Judas Night. This is held the night before Easter. In this parade, you will see an effigy of Judas Iscariot being hung by a tree, and later, beaten and burned.

Many homes decorate their porch with a purple cloth draped over a cross and then on Good Friday, they put out altars to honor the Virgin of Sorrows.

During Holy Week, many Costa Ricans head to the beach to spend time with their families. Superstitions are alive and well. For example, often people refrain from swimming in the ocean on Holy Thursday because it is believed that God is angry, so there is a possibility that one might drown. Many also believe that on Good Friday, if you enter the ocean, you can turn into a fish.


Monbi Lisham*

Easter celebrations in India can look different, depending on the culture. I had the privilege of being a part of Easter celebrations around multiple cultural settings in India. Here’s what I observed and experienced.

In the rural North, Easter is about fasting, confessing, and praying, which starts with Good Friday and ends with Easter Sunday. The three days of fasting end on Easter Sunday with a grand feast celebrating the victory of Jesus over sin and death and redemption of humanity. Some fast for 40 days before Easter Sunday. Easter also becomes a time when pastors encourage church members to pray for revival, practice evangelism, and disciple friends and family from other faiths.

In the urban North, people observe Lent and abstain from meat and hard drinks. Bible studies, fellowships, and other church gatherings take place too.

The tribal people in the Northeast celebrate Palm Sunday with a community march after the service. They march with drums and sing hymns and wave palm leaves while shouting “hosannah” and “happy Palm Sunday.” After Palm Sunday, some people fast until Good Friday or some fast on Good Friday with the church community. On Easter Sunday, the church community celebrates by sharing food that is prepared by church members.

In the South of India, due to a blend of several church traditions and cultures, it can vary from church to church and from individual to individual.


Richard Coleman

Ethiopian Orthodox Christians do a partial fast for 55 days leading up to Easter. They eat no meat, dairy, or eggs and many may eat once a day after 3:00 p.m. When Holy Week rolls around, people are anticipating the end of this long fast. As Easter approaches, some people do a total fast, starting Thursday and ending Sunday at midnight. However, people are allowed to drink a little water and have a little bread on Saturday. Shortly before breaking the fast, they drink ground flax seed mixed with water. On Saturday morning, people kill a chicken by cutting its neck. This is symbolic of Peter denying Christ three times followed by the rooster’s crow. When the clock strikes midnight, 12:00 a.m. on Easter Sunday, people eat doro wot (chicken stew), but slowly, since they’ve had no meat for 55 days. There is no church service on Easter since it takes place the day before.

In the week leading up to Easter Sunday, people can’t kiss or hug or make the sign of the cross. From Monday to Friday people go to church daily and bow many, many times, reflecting on Jesus. My friend, for example, bowed 300 times in one day.

While Orthodox Christians celebrate this way, Protestants do not generally fast on the days leading up to Easter. They only gather for a meal and go to church to celebrate the holiday.


Matthew Richardson*

The general population knows nothing of what is called the “return to life (resurrection)” holiday. Those who know who it was who returned to life celebrate the day in their groups and sing many songs relating to the joy and power of the day. There is no trace of candy, baskets, and bunnies!


Laurie Drum

Easter is the biggest cultural holiday in Spain. Though the statistical number of people who identify as Catholic has dropped by more than 20 percentage points in the past few years, the majority of the population still identifies with the cultural customs – even if they don’t attend church or believe in the church’s teachings.

Everything begins with Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. But the big Easter ceremonies begin with Palm Sunday. Here it is called Domingo de los Ramos, which means Sunday of the Branches. Traditionally, branches from olive trees are brought to the churches for the service. It happens to coincide with the annual pruning of the olive groves. Then people take home the branches and use them to decorate their balconies or doorways for the week.

Everything is closed during Holy Week. It is a national holiday. There is no school and most workplaces are closed. Only grocery stores and restaurants are open. It is considered to be a family week, a time when people travel back to their hometowns and visit with the entire extended family and see their childhood friends. It is a week of social gatherings and relationships.

There are many parades. Even non-church goers go to the processionals in Spain. In fact, people travel from all over Europe, and other places, to see the Easter processionals in Spain.

Each day, beginning with Palm Sunday, there is a huge processional parade through the streets of town to celebrate a different part of the Easter story. On Palm Sunday, the parade carries a life-sized statue of Christ on a donkey, complete with a full-grown olive tree. Every day there are at least three scenes depicted and carried through the streets. The statue and the platform for each part of the parade is covered in real silver and gold, candles, carved wood, and flowers and weighs literally tons. Each one requires many people to carry it – some require 60+ people! These “tronos” (thrones) are quite antique, each one being hundreds of years old and worth many thousands of dollars in gold and silver and antiquities. In between each carried platform, there is a marching band playing traditional Easter church marches, and women dressed in traditional Spanish mourning clothing and carrying candles. The entire processional each day is akin to going to church – parade spectators dress in nicer clothing to go and watch. Some, usually those who are of an older generation, pray and cry as each depiction of Christ passes by. Once the processional has passed your street or area, you go out to dinner or go to a family member’s home for a meal together with all of the cousins and grandparents, etc.

This happens every day during Holy Week, each day having completely different scenes paraded through town. Different churches are responsible for different days (which becomes a bit of a competition, sadly, to see who can outdo the other with the best flowers or the most candles, etc). It all culminates on Good Friday with the biggest parade of the week. The crucifixion is the main scene, as well as a tomb and Roman soldiers.

Saturday is quiet. No parades. Saturday is usually the big church day of the week for those who still attend the Catholic church, but there is no service on Easter Saturday.

Sunday in our town there is a city-wide church service in a Catholic church that no longer has an active congregation and is now owned by the city and run as a museum. This service is very small – really just a gesture. In fact, Easter Sunday is not a church day for most of Spain. It is a celebration day for families. Most Spaniards celebrate Easter Sunday with big family meals or picnics or outings.

In contrast, the evangelical church sees Easter as “a Catholic holiday,” and almost nothing is said about it. It is one of the most difficult times for us as CCWs, because we are outsiders in the Catholic tradition, but the protestant church intentionally refuses to celebrate so that they can be as far away from Catholicism as possible. In fact, if you go to the Easter processionals and you are a member of the evangelical church, you are looked down upon or scolded for “idol worship.”

*Pseudonyms are used for security reasons