Holy week in Paraguay

on April 3, 2012

Easter is the culmination of Semana Santa or Holy Week. Miercoles Santo, Holy Wednesday, is the first celebrated day in Paraguay. Women in every household around the country prepare a large quantity of "chipa."

Chipa is a very traditional Paraguayan food - shaped like bagels, they are made from mandioca flour (freshly ground), corn meal, Paraguayan cheese, eggs, pig fat/butter, anise. It is traditionally baked in a tatakua (guarani for brick oven) - that is dome shaped and heated using fire, the fire is then removed, the food is placed inside and the two openings are closed. The brick oven retains the heat (extreme heat!) and the food is cooked very quickly. It is best served hot, it becomes hard when cooled.

The chipa is then consumed all day Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. By Friday it is usually so hard that it needs to be dipped in coffee or cocido (hot tea made with mate) to be edible.

Viernes Santo, or Good Friday, is usually a quiet day of fasting. Most traditional Paraguayans frown on drinking alcohol, music, or consuming anything other than chipa on this day. Many traditional families bathe in cold water (often a local stream if there is one) before sunrise believing the water is purified this morning.

Pascua, or Easter, is a day of family. A huge meal is prepared usually asado. Asado, or barbecue is beef ribs cooked on a "parilla" or grill with only salt and lemon juice as seasoning. Pork is very popular, pigs are raised for 1-2 years in advance of a special occasion such as Pascua. Generally it is prepared in a mix of lemon juice, cumin and salt and baked in the tatakua oven. Asado and pork are usually accompanied by a potato or rice salad and mandioca.

The weather is still very hot for Easter and communities that are lucky to have a river or stream take advantage of it on Easter. There are often soccer or volleyball tournaments. City dwellers usually return to their rural communities to visit family members. Wealthy families often spend Easter at balnearios (or water resorts) for swimming, asado and music.

Our celebration is a bit different of course. We use the opportunity to have special services at church to invite those who are home and have no where to go and not much to do. We've been out visiting in the neighborhood of the church and pray that many visitors will attend both services. We do eat lots of chipa though during these next few days.