Semana Santa, or Easter Holy Week, in Nicaragua is a week of colorful religious tradition, tourism and partying.
Most people get vacation days starting April 4 or 5, making for a long four-day weekend, which many take advantage of by going to the beach with family and friends.
While the spring break-like partying is notorious in San Juan del Sur and other popular beach areas, Semana Santa celebrations are not all just beer and bikinis.
The Nicaraguan Tourism Institute (INTUR) organizes a slew of events, concerts and cultural activities from April 4-8.
I NTUR also helps to organize the country’s four major sacred events related to Semana Santa: the oxcart pilgrimage to Popoyuapa, Rivas; the dressed-up dog celebration to Saint Lazarus in Monimbó, Masaya; the aquatic Stations of the Cross on the Isletas of Lake Nicaragua, in Granada; and the exhibition of passion carpets in Subtiava, León.
Each of the events is unique to Nicaragua.
Oxcart Pilgrimage (March 24)
The oxcart caravan – a four-day, 60-kilometer journey from Nandaime, Granada to Popoyuapa, Rivas – has been celebrated for more than a century.
The plodding and deliberate oxcarts come from all over Masaya, Granada, and Rivas to make the pilgrimage to the Sanctuary in Popoyuapa to pay homage during a March 24 outdoor mass to Nuestra Señor del Rescate de Popoyuapa, who is said to be responsible for miracles in the lives of the faithful.
Dogs of St. Lazarus (March 25)
Perhaps the most entertaining of all Semana Santa religious events is the homage paid to Saint Lazarus during the last Sunday before Holy Week begins.
The event is celebrated at the MagdalenaChurch in Monimbó, the indigenous section of Masaya. Hundreds of people bring their dogs of all sizes and breeds to church dressed up as everything from Daddy Yankee to Barbie.
A mass is held in honor of Saint Lazarus, and then a contest is held in which all the participants bring their dressed-up dogs on stage and make them dance for the crowd. The celebration is 80 years old.
According to the Bible, dogs licked the wounds of Lazarus and brought him back to health, hence the party in their honor.
Stations of the Cross (April 2)
One of the most original takes on a religious tradition is the aquatic Stations of the Cross celebration that takes place each year on Lake Nicaragua, stopping at 14 different islets where the stations are located.
Fourteen homes on islands are converted into flowered shrines to mark each of the Stations of the Cross, and a large statue of Jesus is carried on the bow of a boat from one island to the next.
Other tourists and religious faithful follow behind in their own boats.
Passion Carpets (April 6)
The colorful passion carpets of Subtiava, León, are – quite literally – the most colorful of the Semana Santa traditions.
The tradition dates back to 1910, when the Rojas family of León honored Good Friday with a colorful “rug” made out of colored sand and sawdust in the shape of religious symbols.
Today, the event is celebrated each Good Friday with colorful and elaborate carpets made of sand and sawdust depicting images from the life and death of Christ.