Getting an accurate estimate of how many countries worldwide celebrate the holy week traditions can be daunting. Yes, looking back at the numbers is difficult as to how is holy week celebrated varies by region and culture.
However, here is a guide from New York Art Life. Some estimates of around 100 countries worldwide may have observed their kind of traditional Holy Week event
Read on for more various holy week traditions and customs that have been celebrated in 2023.
The Resurrection Day or Easter traditions and other rituals of the holy week are honored as special times, especially for Catholic Christians.
100 Countries Worldwide that Celebrate the Holy Week Traditions
- United Kingdom
- Costa Rica
- El Salvador
- Puerto Rico
- South Korea
- United States
- New Zealand
- South Africa
- Papua New Guinea
- Hong Kong
- Sri Lanka
- Trinidad and Tobago
- Dominican Republic
- El Salvador
- Costa Rica
And a lot more countries that do their share of the Catholic faith with different versions of what happens on the days of the holy week.
Different Versions of the Holy Week Traditions
There is no exact number as to how many countries that celebrate different versions of the Holy Week traditions. There are several forms of celebration of the Holy Week traditions in the United States, Mexico, the Philippines, Italy, Spain, and many other countries in Latin America and Europe.
In Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia, the week of Holy Week is known as Semana Santa and most of the week is spent in prayer and fasting, with a particular focus on the Passion and death of Jesus on Thursday and Friday. Processions frequently take place in cities, towns, and remote areas. Along with processions, other celebrations may include masses, bonfires, theatrical performances, and lively music.
In Brazil, Peru, Argentina, Ecuador, and Chile, Holy Week is typically a time of strong religious devotion and deep spiritual reflection. Churches are usually filled with visitors and special masses are held in the morning and then again in the afternoon. In some communities, people take part in processions, like in Mexico and Colombia, but they tend to be solemn and more reflective.
As Easter Sunday approaches, the Easter Vigil is celebrated in the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Austria, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy, Portugal, and Spain. Masses are held on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday and the focus of the services shifts from sorrow to joy as the anticipation of Easter Sunday’s celebration increases.
These are part of the Holy Week traditions in the Philippines and other Catholic-dominant countries in the list. Processions and festivities coincide with these masses and they often relate to the Passion of Jesus.
Overall, during Holy Week, every country across the globe pays homage to Jesus and the Christian faith by observing and celebrating these ancient traditions with solemnity and respect. Each country has found its own unique way of commemorating this holy week, but all look to invite the spirit of Christianity into their lives.
9 Traditional Holy Week Activities
1. Holy Week Processions:
Processions with statues of Jesus, Mary, and other biblical figures, accompanied by religious music and prayers, are often held in many of these countries as part of Holy Week celebrations.
Processions are a common tradition among these countries during Holy Week that include palm processions, and running of the bulls in some countries. The holy week processions depict the difficult, emotional scenes from the Passion of Jesus Christ in a parade-like atmosphere.
Participants wear traditional period clothing and carry large wooden crosses and statues throughout the towns and cities. These recount the poignant sufferings of Christ in all their horror and intensity.
Bonfires are often lit on Good Friday and/or Holy Saturday in some countries, in the symbolic release of the coming of Jesus. These are prevalent traditions in many parts of the world like an Easter bonfire ad Easter egg burning are held in celebration of Easter Sunday.
Participants gather around large fires, or pyres, to honor the resurrection of Jesus Christ as continuing activity of the processions of holy week. The bonfire symbolizes new beginnings, the end of winter, and the coming of light.
Some cultures lit a Judas fire and even throw figures representing Judas Iscariot into the fire as a way of signifying their rejection of sin.
3. Church Services:
Church services, holy week masses, and activities tend to take on an emotional and somber tone during Holy Week in these countries. Services in churches during the holy week are an essential part of most countries’ celebrations of Lenten Week.
Special services, such as masses and processions, are held in veneration of the Passion of Jesus Christ and in anticipation of Easter Sunday. People come together in great numbers to both console and celebrate in a procession that often includes singing, reading scriptures, and praying.
In countries like Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela, some churches will send out an invitation to all the neighbors in the area to participate in their processions and church services.
4. Theatrical Performances:
Theatrical performances serve as a remarkable approach to telling the stories of Jesus and his death on the cross. The Easter passion plays are staged in churches, Easter theatres, or sacred theatres and at other public sites as a reminder of the sorrow and triumph of the Easter holidays.
The performances come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from informal dramas to large-scale operas. Dressing in period costumes and reproducing traditional settings also add to the theatrics and create an entertaining yet enlightening Holy Week.
5. Special Meals:
Special meals such as fish dishes and commemorative bread are shared in some countries on particular days of Holy Week.
A number of countries have developed traditional lenten foods for the celebration. Some countries eat meals of fish or vegetable-based dishes to denote the period of fasting, while others partake in heavier fare with meat or cake.
For example, in the Philippines, sweet rice called Biko and ground rice called Bibingka are some popular traditional foods or lenten meals eaten during the Holy Week. Other countries may also practice holy week fasting or abstinence from certain meats, such as shellfish during Lent.
Holy Week prayers such as the Rosary and other devotions are often said as part of holy week traditions in some of these countries.
Special prayers and hymns are recited in church services specifically for Holy Week. For example, in the United States, churches hold special prayers as part of the Good Friday services, and in Guatemala, devotions such as “The Seven Last Words of Christ,” which focuses on the suffering of Christ in his final hours, are performed.
In Italy, special chapels called “Misteri” are held to honor the death of Jesus and reflect on the sorrowful story of the Passion.
7. Holy Week Markets:
For many countries, in Mexico especially, Easter markets spring up around the time of Passover, providing an opportunity to purchase items related to the holiday.
Many countries across the world hold outdoor lenten markets during Holy Week. Items such as religious artifacts, food, clothes, and local souvenirs are sold in these holy week bazaars or holy week fairs, providing a unique opportunity for cultural exchange.
In the Philippines, the Quiapo Fair, a centuries-old tradition, marks the beginning of Lent and Holy Week with its many vendors and diverse assortment of goods. In Colombia and Guatemala, markets filled with religious memorabilia such as candles, wooden crosses, and statues of Jesus Christ can be found during Holy Week.
8. Home Decorations:
Homes in some countries are decorated with traditional symbols like the Easter Lamb and religious figures in the week leading up to Easter.
To celebrate Holy Week, many holy week decorations adorn each Catholic Christian home with great decorations like candles, banners, easter flags, and crucifixes or holy week crosses. This practice of home decoration serves, not only to honor Jesus Christ but to also show one’s faith and serve as a reminder that Easter is coming.
In Mexico, for example, multicolored resin crosses, representing Jesus, are hung outside the home to show his entry into the household. Meanwhile, in Spain, people hang colorful flags from their balconies to mark the beginning of the religious holiday.
9. Monument Visits:
Visiting monuments that include holy landmarks and places of pilgrims associated with the passion of Jesus is a common devotion during Holy Week in some of these countries. These are some of the local art places, galleries, and architecture showing artists’ passion for Holy Week, and how it happened to depict the faith of Christianity.
See also below, this video by 206 Tours from YouTube about the “Holy Week from Where it Happened!” and a lot more about why and how these countries celebrate traditional holy week activities around the world.
The Holy Week season is an important one for Christians around the world. Through these 100+ countries, many cultures, arts, and crafts have developed their own ways to celebrate the coming of Easter Sunday with various traditions and practices.
From processions and bonfires to theatrical performances and special meals, each of these countries offers some way of commemorating and reflecting on the Passion of Jesus Christ.
At NY Art Life, you can source arts and crafts traditionally used during this holy season as well as resources and information from experts. Why not learn more about the various customs and traditions that make the Holy Week such a special time for Catholic Christians worldwide?
Call +1 646-961-0512 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.