Unfortunately, being on vacation over the Easter holidays did not allow me the chance to participate in one of the most unique cultural events in Ecuador: the Good Friday processional.
In Ecuador, Good Friday and Semana Santa (holy week) are the main holidays, not Easter. I asked my students if they were excited for Easter and was met with blank stares and answers of “not really”. I was confused. Who isn’t excited to see their family and eat some amazing food?! But here, Easter seems to be somewhat of an afterthought, dwarfed by Good Friday.
On Good Friday, more than a quarter of a million people attend the processional in Quito, which is an enormous reenactment of the Passion of Christ. One of my best friends Abbie went to the processional, and this is what she had to say:
“Thousands of people participate in this procession to recreate the acts of Jesus. Most people dress in purple robes with pointed hats. Although this can be slightly terrifying for those of us from the U.S., there is meaning behind their choice of dress. The cones represent humility and the color purple represents penitence. In addition to this act of faith others walk barefoot, carry large logs, or even hit themselves with sticks or a poison ivy-like plants. Some devout volunteers dress as Jesus Christ and carry large crosses while being continuously hit. The women dressed in veils represent a woman named Veronica who offered her veil to clean Jesus’ face. At the end some of the religious statues from the churches are taken out and showered in roses from those watching. Not to mention that all of these participants complete a walk that lasts about 5 hours. It is a truly interesting tradition and grand display of faith.”
Yes—they wear those crazy KKK robes in purple. In our naive eyes, this is a terrifying expression of bigotry. But it’s not. Nowhere else in the world would those capes be viewed as such. Those garments are traditional Christian capes and while shocking at first, this is a radical example of the cultural differences between our two countries. Most Ecuadorians have never heard of the KKK, and even the most educated are not aware of the similarities of dress. Celebrations take places with these capes in Spain, as well as several other South American countries.
In addition to the processional, there are typical Easter foods that Ecuadorians eat such as fanesca, which is a soup including 12 different types of beans and grains. My students say that you do not need to eat the rest of the day after a bowl of fanesca. Another traditional food at this time is arroz con leche or rice pudding.
I did miss the Good Friday festivities, but I made it back to Quito for Easter mass at the large, lovely cathedral a few blocks from my house. Miraculously, I understood most of the Spanish service! Glory to God.
Jn 20, 1-9
El primer día después del sábado, estando todavía oscuro, fue María Magdalena al sepulcro y vio removido la piedra que lo cerraba. Echó a correr, llegó a la casa donde estaban Simón Pedro y el otro discípulo, a quien Jesús amaba, y les dijo: “Se han llevado del sepulcro al Señor y no sabemos dónde lo habrán puesto”.
Salieron Pedro y el otro discípulo camino del sepulcro. Los dos iban corriendo juntos, pero el otro discípulo corrió más prisa que Pedro y llegó primero al sepulcro, e inclinándose, miró los lienzos puestos en el suelo, pero no entró.
En eso llegó también Simón Pedro, que lo venía siguiendo, y entró en el sepulcro. Contempló los lienzos puestos en el suelo y el sudario, que había estado sobre la cabeza de Jesús, puesto no con los lienzos en el suelo sino doblado en sitio aparte. Entonces entró también el otro discípulo, el que había llegado primero al sepulcro, y vio y creyó, porque hasta entonces no habían entendido las Escrituras, según las cuales Jesús debía resucitar de entre los muertos.
John 20, 1-9
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in.
Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.