How I book-ended Lent: A travel guide

I must confess that I’m focusing on what I did just before and right at the end of Lent, mostly because I didn’t really do much for Lent itself: No fasting, no giving up of difficult-to-give-up treats, and not a single reflection on the true meaning of Lent.

Of course, I don’t counsel anyone against doing those things; indeed, you can do whatever you want during the middle part of Lent. But here is my advice for how to bookend it:

Carnaval in Jacmel In Anglophone Christendom, there are several ways of marking the day before Ash Wednesday. Brits have the indulgent, borderline libertine Shrove Tuesday where they eat pancakes! WOOOHOOO! And some Americans, particularly those of German descent, take the debauchery to even greater heights by eating doughnuts called Fasnachts.

Most American are aware that New Orleans celebrates Mardi Gras (that’s French for ‘Fat Tuesday’ dontcha know), and interpret it as a drunken dance contest where the prize is strings of beads. But in fact, around much of the Caribbean, the period before Lent is a whole season; indeed in Haiti, the Carnaval season seems to stretch from the New Year right up to Mardi Gras. Throughout the Carnaval season, different cities host their own parades and festivities at different times, leading up to the national Carnaval on Mardi Gras.

As on other Caribbean islands where Latin pre-Lenten excess collided with West African music and dance, Carnaval in Haiti has become something truly spectacular. The city of Jacmel, on the southern coast of Haiti, is particularly well-known for its Carnaval, which takes place two weekends before Mardi Gras. This is where we went, and some of what we saw: The Preparations The Parade and Pageantry The Music and Dancing! And things get even crazier after dark, when the street turns into one big dance party. Unfortunately our photojournalist on assignment was too busy dancing to get any good pictures none of the nighttime pictures turned out well.

Semana Santa in Colombia: Growing up Protestant in North America, I learned about Good Friday, Easter Sunday and the Easter bunny. I knew nothing of Tenebrae, Maundy Thursday, Holy Saturday or the stations of the Cross. Yes, Holy Week (Semana Santa in Spanish) is jam-packed full of activities and symbolism in Catholic countries.

If you’re interested in experiencing the pomp and spectacle of Holy Week, but for whatever reason feel uneasy about going into a church or cathedral, might I recommend Colombia, where the church literally spills out onto the streets and plazas. We watched a procession in the colonial town of Giron, where marchers carried floats representing the stations of the Cross, some of which have apparently been used since the 19th century. The solid wooden floats looked heavy enough on their own, but were often further weighed down with children playing the non-Jesus roles.There was some non (Explicitly)-religious pageantry as well.An added bonus is that, during these holidays, many other streets are closed to cars, so we got to wonder through a lot of charming colonial towns without having to fend off any four-wheeled beasts. Giron Barichara Start planning for next Lent accordingly!


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