Street Magic

April 5, 2010

When I was a little girl I was briefly Catholic, a direct result of discovering my maternal roots via competitive Irish dance and family trips to County Kerry. I received my first communion wearing white crocheted gloves and a rose wreath. I attended mass with my grandmother and read along in a small white prayer book the size of my palm. I was even briefly an altar girl, and I remember being very anxious about folding the altar cloth in just the right way. And every year I gave up pizza and soda and television for Lent. It was a time of deprivation, of empty churches and dry fountains.

But in Guatemala, Lent is magic. You emerge from your door and walk into a marching band accompanying a saint as she is carried down your street. You return from work to rose petals and an altar on your sidewalk. You go for coffee on a hot Saturday and there are little girls in white mantillas lining the pavement. Even a-religious college students participate, dressing in black robes to deliver political satire and a good time on Friday nights.

The climax is Holy Week, when Antigua is decked out for the largest Easter celebration in the Americas. By Thursday there are thousands of people in the streets, and you can’t go a block without bumping into a procession.

Families and businesses located along the routes prepare alfombras, carpets made of colored sawdust and fresh flowers, that are quickly kicked up and destroyed when the participants pass. A cleaning truck follows behind, sweeping up the petals and pine needles. Only the sandy outlines are left. It’s like magic.

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