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Kathryn: Semana Santa

April 16, 2010

Since over 90% of Ecuador is Catholic, Semana Santa or Holy Week has many festivities and customs observed by virtually the whole country. As with any holiday here in Ecuador, there is a special food associated with Easter. It is called Fanesca, and it is a very hearty soup made with as many beans and grains as can be found, salt cod, milk, onions, peanuts, and lots of other delicious ingredients, topped with slices of hard boiled egg, plantains, red pepper, and parsley. It is only made once a year during holy week, and I have already eaten three different, equally delicious, versions.

Another tradition that I participated in this year was the siete visitas, in which I made pilgrimages to seven churches in the historic district to offer up prayers and petitions. I was able to go with my friend Margarita, whose family is part of Opus Dei. According to its website, “Opus Dei is a Catholic institution founded by Saint Josemaría Escrivá. Its mission is to help people turn their work and daily activities into occasions for growing closer to God, for serving others, and for improving society.”

On Good Friday, I went back to the Centro Histórico with my friend Jessie and her host family to watch the famous Procesión de Jesús del Gran Poder.  In this procession, people who want to do penance for extraordinary sins or evils they have committed don purple robes with pointy headpieces and march in the procession. The special name for them is “cucuruchos.” The procession also includes many people dressed as Jesus carrying massive and very heavy crosses, often walking barefoot and sometimes with crowns of thorns. Others walk the route wrapped in barbed wire or dragging heavy chains on their ankles.  Jessie and her family and I watched in a packed crowd, underneath umbrellas to shield us from the heat. Nonetheless, a woman next to us fainted, and we dutifully shouted for CRUZ ROJA (Red Cross)! I also narrowly avoided being pickpocketed by the old man innocently standing next to me, groping into my purse.

Holy Saturday I was able to go to the beautiful chapel in the women’s house of Opus Dei once again with Margarita for the Easter Vigil.  As is the Catholic custom in many parts of the world, the ceremony began with all the lights out.  The priest then lit a candle and shared the flame with someone; each of us held a small candle. As the flame spread to each person at the service, we began singing, and the priest reminded us that Christ is the light of life.

After Mass, Margarita and I went out for dessert at TGI Fridays. We then headed over to the men’s Opus Dei house where they have an annual skit night on Holy Saturday.  In one of the performances, four elected audience members repeated a short interchange having to do with selling/buying a “duck” in different accents mandated by the Master of Ceremonies. First they each had to perform the interaction like someone from “the coast,” for example. Then as a Chilean. Then as someone “posh.” Then as Professor so-and-so that everyone knew very well, etc. All very amusing. The party continued at one of our friend’s apartments with more refreshments, music, and conversation.

On Easter Sunday I cooked some typical American dishes for my host family.  I made a green bean casserole (french fried the onions myself), bacon, scalloped potatoes, deviled eggs, and scones with lemon glaze. I also skyped with my parents and siblings back home for quite a while.

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