Lesson Title: Semana Santa (Holy Week)
Objectives: The students will be able to:
- Explain Semana Santa celebrations and its importance in two countries: Guatemala and Mexico.
- Compare and contrast Semana Santa celebrations with Easter in U.S.
Materials: Overheads (pictures of Antigua, Guatemalan carpets and processions), brown paper, colored markers, fake flower petals or colored paper cut outs, pictures and a map of Latin America.
Activities: Vocabulary activity and create carpets.
I. Introduction (Recommended time: 8 min.)
A. Comparisons between U.S. and Latin American Easter Celebrations
• In Latin America most people celebrate Easter by going to church. Others celebrate with fiestas (parties), where there is singing, dancing, and firecrackers.
• In U.S. people celebrate Easter differently. Christians may go to church. Spring in the U.S. is a season of renewal and rebirth. An important tradition is the Easter Egg/Bunny (symbol of new life). Maybe the most famous egg rolling takes place on the White House Lawn. Hundreds of children come with baskets filled with brightly decorated eggs and roll them down the famous lawn, hoping the President of the United States is watching the fun . For Christians, the egg roll signifies the rolling away of the stone in front of Jesus’ tomb.
B. Identify Guatemala on a map. As you mention country facts, you may ask them what they know to make it more interactive:
• 22 departamentos (like states)
• It shares borders with Mexico, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador. Caribbean Sea to East, Pacific Ocean to West.
• Most people are mestizo. Mestizo is a mix of American Indian (indígenas) and white race.
• Some are indígenas (The Maya is the main American Indian group).
• Spanish is the official language, but they speak 23 other American Indian languages (such as Quiche and Cakchiquel).
• Climate: mainly hot and humid, but cooler in the mountains. There are 37 volcanoes and only 3 are active (show pictures of Antigua). For fourth and fifth grade, you may add that Antigua is a famous colonial city because it has preserved the architecture from colonial times (when Spanish people populated Guatemala).
C. Identify Mexico on a map.
• 29 states
• Rio Grande is the border with U.S.
• Most people are mestizo (mix of American Indian and Spanish blood)
• Some are indígena (The Maya, Zapotec, and Nahua are some American Indian groups).
• Spanish is the official language but other 59 American Indian languages are also spoken.
• Climate: from tropical to desert-like in some areas.
II. Vocabulary activity (Recommended Time: 2- 3 min.)
Students will be given Spanish language flash cards (one word per card). After reviewing words together, the students will be asked to hold up their card whenever the word is used throughout the lesson.
Spanish vocabulary list:
Cuaresma- Lent; period of fasting observed by Catholics, 40 days before Easter
La Semana Santa- Holy week (last week of Lent)
Plaza- plaza, square
La Quema Mal Humor- papier-mâché effigy of Judas filled with fireworks
III. Holy Week and Easter (Recommended time: 10 min.) (See the appendix for ideas on how to add more background information, for example, to answer the question “why is Catholicism so wide spread in Latin America?”)
“The final week of Lent (Cuaresma) is known as Holy Week. In Spanish-speaking countries it is called Semana Santa (show pronunciation on board- Say-MAH-na SAHN-ta). During Holy Week there are slow, sorrowful processions (las procesiones) in many cities of Latin America. Large, heavy platforms bear statues of Jesus and Mary. The platforms are marched through the streets (las calles) on the shoulders of the faithful” (show pictures of las procesiones).
Holy Week in Mexico City is not as religiously oriented as in past years, many people (la gente) leave to visit Acapulco or other resort spots . It is customary in Mexico and other Central American countries for people to dress up as Jesus, Mary, Judas or the Romans (as in Jesus times) and meet in the plazas to reenact “The Passion”. The Passion is about the last day of Jesus’ life. For many kids and grown-ups, participating in the play is fun and exciting. Kids like to compete for parts in the play and many like to watch too.
On Saturday, at the end of Holy Week, towns in Mexico and other Latin American countries have a very noisy demonstration. La gente make a figure of Judas out of straw, rags, or papier-mâché and wire it with dozens of firecrackers. Christians believe that Judas was the false friend of Jesus, and that is why the Mexicanos hang his figure up at the village plaza and light a match to him .
“In Antigua, and other cities of Guatemala, in Central America, there is an especially beautiful custom (la costumbre). Each night of Holy Week the people stay up late. They make “carpets” (las alfombras) along the route of the next day’s procession. The carpets are made of colored sawdust (el aserrín) sprinkled onto the ground through the cutouts in a stencil. Lovely patterns and flower (las flores) designs are formed. They look like those of a richly woven wool carpet that is as long as a city calle.” (Show pictures of las alfombras).
The next day las procesiones walk along las alfombras. As they pass over the beautiful alfombras that everyone worked so hard to complete, they are destroyed. However, nobody cares, because they are participating in the activities and excited about la procesión.
Easter Sunday is the day on which Jesus is believed to have risen from the grave. Many towns in Latin America have candle light processions the midnight before. Easter morning is a time of joy celebrated with singing, dancing, and more firecrackers. For others is a day of quiet worship with serene music in the churches.
IV. Creative carpets! (Recommended time: 15 min.)
Tell the students that they will be able to make their own carpets. The class will be broken down into smaller groups of 5-7 students per group. Each group will be told that they are representing their own block in their barrio and that they are making their alfombra for la procesión the next day. Students will also be reminded about how hard los guatemaltecos work on their alfombras and how late at night they work.
Give the students a long sheet of brown paper. The brown paper can be placed on the floor for the students to decorate. Extra plastic bags can be cut and placed on the floor for students to put materials. The materials that can be used to decorate are: markers, glue, paper, glitter, fake flower petals or colored paper cut outs.
The students will have approximately 6-8 minutes to design and create their alfombras. While they are working, music can be played in the background (Recommended CD: Hugo Liscano y Javier Galué (1996) Infantiles Vol. 2. Songs: Aserrín, Asserán #6; Si Tu Tienes Muchas Ganas #10). Finally, allow two minutes for each group to show what they did and explain what their alfombra is trying to convey.
After students are settled from the activity, ask the students if there are any questions.
Cummins, Ronnie (1990). Children of the World, Guatemala. London: Gareth Stevens.
Bilingual Program of Education Service Center, Region XIII (1986). Information and Materials to Teach the Cultural Heritage of the Mexican-American Child. Los Angeles: Bilingual Educational Services, Inc.
Perl, Lila (1983). Piñatas and Paper Flowers: Holidays of the Americas in English and Spanish. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
The following are suggested ideas on how to add more background information.
Direct the attention of students to the question: Why is Catholicism so wide spread in Latin America? Refer to colonialism and the religious’ Spanish background .
• Invasion of Moors in Spain (eighth century). Spain expelled the Moors (1248) and made Catholicism the official religion.
i. “Everywhere in sixteenth-century Europe, it was assumed that religious unity was necessary for political Unity. The Inquisition, authorized by papal bull in 1478, had the task of enforcing uniformity of religious practice. After 1525 all residents of Spain were officially Christian” .
• Henry the Navigator (Portugal) started explorations overseas (fifteenth century).
• Ferdinand and Isabella’s wedding consolidated the Spanish state (1469). Identity of the state in Catholic religion→ expansion of Catholicism meant expansion of Spanish power.
• The role of the Spanish missioners in the evangelization of the “Indians”.