Antigua, Guatemala puts up one of the largest Easter celebration in North America, with an estimated 200,000 people flocking to this Colonial town every year to watch the colourful Semana Santa celebrations or Holy Week, leading up to Easter. Thousands of national and international visitors crowd the cobblestoned streets to watch the costumed processions, reenactments of the crucifixion, and other ceremonies.
The most amazing part of Antigua’s Semana Santa celebration, however, are the colorful carpets or “alfombras” that line the streets. Sand or sawdust is used to level the cobblestones, and is dyed different colors and interwoven with bright flowers, other plants, pine needles and even fruits. Sometimes colored sawdust is prepared for weeks in advance and then hours are spend carefully pouring, sifting and placing the sawdust into stencils.
Carpets express both religious as well as contemporary messages in the designs. Preparations for the carpets begin weeks, sometimes months, ahead. Often families will begin work on a carpet ten to twelve hours before the procession is scheduled to pass. Utilizing two-by-fours raised slightly above the surface as crude scaffolding, the “artists” carefully follow the curlicues and patterns of the stencils as they sprinkle the dyed sawdust over the sand. To keep the sawdust from drying out and blowing away, the carpets are periodically watered to keep it wet and compacted.
It’s pity when they get walked over by the parade processions. The carpets along the processional route are made during 24 hours prior to the procession. If more than one procession is scheduled to go down a street a new carpet is made for each procession.