The Easter vacation season is a hectic time in the Ribera de Chapala, but don’t expect the Easter Bunny to bop about hiding colored eggs and leaving baskets filled with jelly beans, marshmallow chickens and chocolates.
Do anticipate the area to be overrun by droves of seasonal visitors from nearby Guadalajara during Semana Santa (Holy Week) and Semana de Pascua (Easter Week). Meanwhile, much of the local populace — save those engaged in serving the tourist trade — will pause from normal routines to take part in traditional events and religious observances.
Day-trippers from the metro area flock to lakeside to mosey along the waterfront, frolic in the lake, plunk down for picnics or belly up at the tables of local eateries to gorge on local cuisine. Upscale urban families settle in for more extended stays to unwind at lakeside hotels or the private homes they keep as vacation retreats. Traffic congestion will be fierce.
In lakeside’s predominantly Roman Catholic communities, the holiday period brings the most transcendence of its many religious celebrations, and with them long-held customs practiced by the faithful to heighten personal identification with Biblical accounts.
Hundreds of ordinary folks break from normal routines at the start of Lent to lend a hand in the staging of traditional Passion Plays put on in Ajijic, San Antonio Tlayacapan, Chapala and other towns. Volunteers dedicate free hours to rehearsing roles, building sets, collecting props, stitching period costumes, planning logistics and technical support, and organizing fund-raising activities to cover expenses.
These programs — referred to collectively as the Pasión de Cristo or Judea Viviente — are presented in a series of events scheduled between Palm Sunday and Holy Saturday. They are generally handled by independent lay groups that sometimes face grudging cooperation or outright resistance from village priests who would like to impose their own vision on portrayals of the Savior’s final days.
While filled with moments of high drama, the Passion Play episodes are not designed as mere theatrical spectacles. Historically rooted in the Colonial era of Mexico’s evangelization, they are intended to bring about an authentic spiritual encounter with Jesus among spectators and cast members alike. Audiences are encouraged to watch in quiet respect, refraining from applause while reflecting on the spiritual messages made palpable before their eyes.
During performances the characters genuinely experience anger, anguish, grief and other emotions as they act out carefully scripted blocking and deliver lines of dialogue. Crowds of onlookers are often prompted to gasp or break out in tears in the most wrenching scenes, such as the flagellation of Jesus realistically inflicted by Roman soldiers armed with whips soaked in fake blood, the painful falls he suffers while lugging the cross en route to the Golgota scene, and the final breaths of his Crucifixion.
Persons keen to be in sync with local customs should be aware that starting times for scheduled presentations can be flexible. Spectators often assemble an hour or more in advance to gain the best viewing spots. Those planning to hike along with moving sequences are advised to wear apparel appropriate to weather and terrain, and carry a supply of water or hydration drinks.