With more than 80 per cent of Belizeans professing Christianity, Easter is the single longest public and Bank Holiday – from Good Friday through Easter Monday. This is a 4 day holiday when residents flee to neighboring Cancun, Playa Del Carmen and Chetumal in Mexico, or take to the local beaches, river or nearest bathing pool. Schools are closed for a full week starting from the Monday before the Easter weekend. Government, public utilities and banks shut down for the four days making this one of the slowest periods for commerce. The weather is usually very hot, but at times a straggling cold front moves in over the Yucatan Peninsula bringing in clouds and pleasant temperatures.
The sale of alcohol is prohibited throughout the country on Good Friday, a day when solemn religious activities are held including all-day church services and processions re-enacting of the Passion of Christ. Regretfully, foreign tourism interests have managed to erode Easter traditions in certain areas such as Ambergris Caye by pressuring local authorities to look the other way to allow the sale of alcohol on Good Friday.
Good Friday is one of the most peaceful days in the country. Minimal travelling is done on this day as most folks either stay home to be with their families. Radio and television stations broadcast religious programs, including live coverage of the Pope’s Good Friday Message and the procession around Rome’s Colosseum to mark Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and death on Good Friday.
The most colorful and tradition re-enactment of the Via Crucifix is held at the town of Benque Viejo del Carmen in western Belize. There, after an evening mass, the Good Friday procession winds through the streets of the little town where the central streets are decorated with beautiful Alfombras De Acerrin (sawdust carpets). This Semana Santa (Holy Week) tradition boldly projects the Spanish traditions of Western and Northern Belize and is growing in popularity as more Belizeans in these areas embrace their Latino Culture long repressed under British colonial rule that ended in 1981.
Holy Saturday it is off to the races! Belizeans are nuts about cycling. The annual Holy Saturday Cross Country Cycle Race, a grueling 140 mile pedal race, runs from Belize City to San Ignacio-Santa Elena in the west, and back to Belize City. It causes the country to shut down for another day – well, at least most of the day. The race takes up the entire Western Highway paralyzing traffic from 5 in the morning until 2pm, so travelers are well advised to make their plans accordingly. The first cross country cycle race was held in 1928 and was won by Elston Kerr. The race has its roots in colonial era Belize when poor people had to cycle from village to village to watch cricket and football matches due to non-existent public transport and terrible roads. Following the race, most municipalities have fairs and dances.
Easter Sunday is observed with mass celebrating the Resurrection of Christ and is a time when families get together, visit each other, share meals or have picnics. It is a time when Christians proclaim their faith and strengthen their ties to God. In the afternoons, many municipalities hold football games and fairs.
Easter Monday is when the Easter celebrations begin to wind down. There are still a few fairs being held throughout the country including one at Burrel Boom in the Belize District which also hosts horse races. Tuesday it is back to work and start to think of the next long weekend for another opportunity to enjoy this wonderful country we all love.