The Complete Guide to Holy Week and Easter in Mexico

Semana Santa Easter Festival at Oaxaca Cathedral.
An Easter celebration at Oaxaca Cathedral. John Sones/Singing Bowl Media/Getty Images

In Mexico, the Easter holiday consists of a two-week-long celebration. The Catholics in this country consider Semana Santa, the holy week leading up to Easter, and Semana de Pascua, the week after Easter Sunday, important times for cultural and religious appreciation. Most schools and some businesses close during this time and Mexican nationals flock to the beaches to enjoy time off with their families (an important note for travelers to tourist areas). This is also a time reserved for religious worship by way of processions, special church ceremonies, and rituals that include reenactments of Jesus's crucifixion.

A statue of JESUS ON THE CROSS is carried in the Good Friday Procession, known as the Santo Entierro, from the ORATORIO CHURCH - SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE, MEXICO
Craig Lovell / Getty Images

Dates of Semana Santa

Semana Santa traditionally runs from Palm Sunday (Domingo de Ramos) to Easter Sunday (Domingo de Pascua), but since students (and some workers) enjoy a two-week break during this time, the week after Easter is also considered part of the national holiday. The date of Easter changes each year and is calculated based on the moon's cycle and the spring equinox, with Easter falling on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the equinox. To make it easier, here are the dates for Easter for the next few years. Semana Santa and Semana de Pascua occur before and immediately following these dates.

  • 2021 - April 4
  • 2022 - April 17
  • 2023 - April 9
  • 2024 - March 31
Rosarito Beach, Mexico
stellalevi / Getty Images

Travel During Holy Week

Since Mexico schools have a two-week break surrounding the Easter holiday, this is effectively considered the country's "spring break." This time period also coincides with many spring breaks in the United States, as well as other countries located in the Northern Hemisphere. In some areas of Mexico, this springtime reprieve comes during the hottest time of the year, making the beach a magnet for those wanting to escape the hot city. If you plan to travel to Mexico over Easter, be prepared for beachside celebrations, complete with camping, barbecuing, and partying. Many tourist attractions will also be crowded around this time. Be sure to book your hotel, vacation rental, and airline reservations well in advance to assure lower fares and availability.

A statue of JESUS CHRIST is carried in the PALM SUNDAY PROCESSION from Parque Juarez to the Jardin - SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE, MEXICO
Palm Sunday - Domingo de Ramos. Craig Lovell / Getty Images

Religious Celebrations

Despite the coastal crowds, Easter's religious observances do not take a back seat to beach fun in Mexico. Processions and passion plays take place all throughout the country, celebrated in different ways in different communities. Large, elaborate Holy Week celebrations can be found en grande in the cities of Taxco, Pátzcuaro, Oaxaca City, and San Cristobal de las Casas.

Palm Sunday - Domingo de Ramos
On the Sunday prior to Easter, known as Palm Sunday, Catholics commemorate the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem. According to the Bible, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, while the townspeople laid down palm branches in his path. Many towns and villages in Mexico reenact Jesus's triumphal entry with a procession, and woven palms are sold outside churches.

Maundy Thursday - Jueves Santo
The Thursday of Holy Week is known as Maundy Thursday, a day that commemorates the washing of the feet of the apostles, the Last Supper, and Jesus's arrest in Gethsemane. Mexican traditions include visiting seven churches to recall the vigil the apostles kept in the garden while Jesus prayed before his arrest, attending a foot-washing ceremony, and, of course, taking part in a mass with Holy Communion.

Good Friday - Viernes Santo
Good Friday observes the crucifixion of Christ. On this day, solemn religious processions take place in which statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary are carried through towns alongside dramatic recreations of the crucifixion of Christ. Participants often dress in costume depicting the era of Jesus's life. The largest reenactment takes place in Iztapalapa, south of Mexico City, where over one million people gather every year for the Via Crucis (The Way of the Cross).

Holy Saturday - Sabado de Gloria
Some communities in Mexico still burn an effigy of Judas (to signify his betrayal of Jesus), however, now this tradition has become a festive occasion. Cardboard or papier-mache figures are constructed, sometimes with firecrackers attached, and then burned. Often the Judas figures are made to look like Satan, but sometimes they are made to resemble controversial political figures.

Easter Sunday - Domingo de Pascua
You won't come across any mention of the Easter Bunny or chocolate eggs on Easter Sunday in Mexico. This is generally a day when people attend mass at a Catholic church and celebrate quietly with their families. However, in some places, festivities include fireworks and jubilant processions with music and dancing.

World City Day
Cholula, Puebla. Kryssia Campos / Getty Images

Best Places to Celebrate Easter in Mexico

The Easter holiday is celebrated throughout the country of Mexico, making it a good destination for observant travelers. Still, a few cities hold strong to local tradition, and you can truly witness some unique cultural nuances by visiting them.

  • Cholula, Puebla: In this small town outside of Puebla, the floor of the town square is decorated with elaborately designed tapestries made of sand and flower petals. A large procession with people carrying religious figures makes its way around the square, walking over the tapestry and destroying it as they go. 
  • Oaxaca City, Oaxaca: On Good Friday, a silent procession winds its way through the city streets. Many of the participants carry religious figures and some wear pointed hoods that represent the wearer's repentance for their sins. 
  • San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato: Here, locals wrap strings of firecrackers around figures made of papier-mache, called Judases, on Good Friday. These Judases not only represent Judas, himself, but are also creations of political figures or other controversial personalities. The firecrackers are then ignited in front of crowds of people who enjoy the spectacle of the burning papier-mache figures.
  • Mexico City: In the town of Iztapalapa you will find one of the most elaborate and fervent Easter passion plays. Participants take the dramatization very seriously and spend months preparing to take on the roles of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Roman soldiers, and other figures. In the city, traffic decreases and a laid-back vibe can be observed around the holiday weeks, as many city dwellers leave their homes to embark on travel. This is an ideal time to enjoy the city free of crowds.
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Barbezat, Suzanne. "The Complete Guide to Holy Week and Easter in Mexico." Learn Religions, Jun. 22, 2021, learnreligions.com/holy-week-and-easter-in-mexico-1588769. Barbezat, Suzanne. (2021, June 22). The Complete Guide to Holy Week and Easter in Mexico. Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/holy-week-and-easter-in-mexico-1588769 Barbezat, Suzanne. "The Complete Guide to Holy Week and Easter in Mexico." Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/holy-week-and-easter-in-mexico-1588769 (accessed June 22, 2021).