World famous for its Lent (Cuaresma) and Holy Week (Semana Santa) celebrations, Antigua and surrounding pueblos in the central highlands of Guatemala buzz with people, emotion and activities at this time of year more than any other. Families, friends, neighbors and communities spend hours together creating elaborate ceremonial carpets called alfombras along the route of religious processions.
Some make simple alfombras of pine needles strewn with flowers. Others create intricate, time-consuming works of art using stencils and sawdust (called aserrín) stained the varying hues of an artist’s palette. For these, they level a surface of sand or plain sawdust over the uneven cobblestones before sifting a fine layer of dyed sawdust to paint a colored background.
Placing their choice of cardboard or wooden stencils cut into various images and patterns on the blank canvas they carefully sift contrasting hues of sawdust to create the effect they want. Laying on platforms of sturdy planks of wood placed on blocks spanning the width of the alfombra, they avoid damaging their art.
After months of planning and hours of work and painstaking concentration, masterpieces carpet the cobbles in the path of processions only to be trampled moments later into an impressionistic mishmash between gray stones.
Here’s a photo tour of the elaborate process of alfombra-making! Click here to see all my Holy Week posts from previous years. For this year’s Semana Santa photos and all things Antigueño, check out Antigua Daily Photo.
During the festive season in Antigua, Guatemala, tucked away behind the Mercado de Artesanías is a daily Christmas market, brimming with traditional decorations both natural and man-made.
On entering, a flood of color assaults the eyes from garishly stained sawdust, glistening tinsel, sparkling baubles and flashing decorative lights. Hawkers call out and seasonal music tickles the ears as the scent of flowers, chamomile and pine needles saturate the air.
It’s definitely worth an idle browse for an insight into some of Guatemala’s Christmas traditions and to feel the season’s spirit far away from home.
Pine needles and palm fronds
Locals strew pine needles, palm fronds, mosses and other foliage on the floor, string it up as decorations or use it to adorn the customary nativity scenes or nacimientos exhibited in churches and many homes, restaurants and hotels at this time of year.
Wicker baskets and plastic sheets overflow in the market with freshly cut green, yellowish-green and grey growth that stall-holders sell by the bag or in bundles already strung for hanging.
Chamomile or manzanillas are small, round, yellow (ripening to red) fruits that hawkers sell strung on long threads to create naturally scented Christmas adornments for the house. They are also tasty and are one of the ingredients in the hot seasonal fruit punch or ponche.
Tinsel, lights and baubles
Lambs, reindeer and nativity figures
Stalls display a riot of different sized human, animal and celestial figures made from an array of materials, including twigs (the reindeer), dried corn husks (the lambs) and plastic, for the popular nativity scenes or nacimientos and for general decoration.
Seasonal flowers abound in varying shades of red adding a festive hue to markets at Christmas time.
Stained sawdust and pebbles
Gaudy color splashes the market from brightly stained sawdust (aserrín) and little white pebbles sold by the bag to decorate nativity scenes. Guatemalans take the creation of nacimientos very seriously and are very imaginative in their personal depiction of them.
Selling desserts outside the market
Leaving the market
Colorful camionetas or chicken buses noisily roar past carrying passengers to and from the market.