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Whether you celebrate true to the holiday's religious roots or in a secular way, chances are when you think of the Easter season, some very specific things come to mind: candy nestled in baskets, foil-wrapped chocolate rabbits, lilies and tulips, Lent, the Easter bunny, dying eggs, egg hunts, pastel colors, the Bible story of Jesus's crucifixion and resurrection, church attendance and pretty dresses especially for the occasion. Yet in Spain and throughout Latin America, Easter is celebrated differently. Here are just a few of the unique Easter traditions from the Spanish-speaking world.
Cascarones or "confetti eggs" were an idea brought from Asia to Italy by explorer Marco Polo. Originally, the empty chicken eggs were filled with perfumed powder and given as gifts or thrown at women by men trying to court them, but when the tradition spread to Spain and later to Mexico via Emperor Maximilian's wife, Carlotta, Mexicans gave it their own spin by replacing the powder with confetti. Eventually, these colorful confetti-filled eggs became an Easter tradition and were smashed over heads for good luck. In recent years, the tradition has spread beyond Mexico and states such as Texas and New Mexico in the United States, becoming a newly-embraced tradition for many Hispanic families of non-Mexican heritage in the U.S. as well.
Many Mexicans fulfill religious promises at this time of year. These religious promises are known as "mandas" and their purpose is to repay God for answered prayers. Some Mexicans visit twelve different churches in one day—one church for each of Jesus's apostles—to fulfill their end of the bargain or simply out of devotion.
Burning "El Judas" in Spain
Easter Sunday is when Spaniards celebrate the "Burning of the Judas." Larger-than-life papier-maché versions of disliked politicians and historical figures as well as Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Jesus, are wrapped in firecrackers and blown up, much to the delight of spectators. This tradition is also popular in parts of Mexico and several other Latin American countries.
"The Chained Ones" in Masatepe, Nicaragua
Creative and sometimes frightening masks, as well as the sound of metal chains being dragged, may sound like a Halloween tradition, but this is the scene during holy week in Masatepe, Nicaragua. Those who participate in this procession are called "Los Encadenados" or "The Chained Ones," and they're meant to portray Judas, the man who betrayed Jesus.
"Alfombras" in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras
One of the most beautiful Easter traditions of the Spanish-speaking world is the colorful "alfombras" (carpets) which are created on the streets of various Latin American countries, particularly in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Groups of people work together for hours, carefully and patiently sprinkling sawdust dyed in vibrant colors to create a design on the pavement; religious images, flowers, and geometric patterns are all popular themes. These carpets are appreciated by all for only a short time, as they're soon destroyed by the feet of those marching in Easter processions.
Parades featuring statues of Jesus are common throughout Latin America during holy week, but in the small town of Cot de Cartargo in Costa Rica their parade is a little different. Worshipers hold the ends of colorful ribbons which are tied to the statue of Jesus to symbolize promises they make to him.
Beach vacations throughout Latin America
While much of the United States is still trying to shake off the winter chill, holy week is a popular time for vacations in much of Latin America. Families pack their suitcases and typically head to the beach for a few days of fun in the sun.