Semana Santa (Holy Week) is the week leading up to Easter Sunday and is one of the most important celebrations in Colombia and is a popular vacation time.
Colombia is a predominately Catholic country and many of the 18 Colombia holidays are religious holidays. Semana Santa commemorates the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Normally, all over Colombia, cities, towns, family and people celebrate and recognize Holy Week in a variety of different ways and levels of intensity.
The week of Semana Santa in 2020 in Colombia is from Sunday, April 5 to Saturday, April 11, which is the week before Easter Sunday.
Samana Santa in 2020 will be different than past years with no Semana Santa processions and without Masses in churches due to the coronavirus pandemic and a national Colombia quarantine from March 24 to April 13. Parishioners are asked to stay home during this week in Colombia due to the quarantine.
All normal Semana Santa activities are cancelled in 2020 due to the nationwide Colombia quarantine .
Semana Santa 2020 – Coronavirus Impacts
As part of the preventive measures taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the archdiocese of Medellín announced on March 18, 2020, that during the duration of the coronavirus emergency the archdiocese will take special protection measures for its faithful, which include the celebration of closed-door Masses and the suspension of the traditional Semana Santa processions.
However, on March 25, the archdiocese of Medellín announced that celebrations should be held in all the parishes, even without the participation of the faithful. Parishioners are asked to go in prayer from their homes.
In other words, parishioners were told not to violate the the nationwide Colombia quarantine for Semana Santa and stay at home.
Furthermore, Archbishop Ricardo Tobón made a call not to panic about hoarding of goods and provisions, and to heed the instructions given by the authorities to prevent the situation from worsening.
It should be noted that many in Colombia typically take this entire week off for vacation. While only two of these days are considered national public holidays and two days are on the weekend, it has become traditional for many smaller businesses in Colombia to close for this entire week. But in 2020, most business are closed already due to the quarantine in Colombia.
Schools are also closed during this week. But banks only close on the two public holidays during this week on Thursday and Friday.
In addition, Antioquia Governor Aníbal Gaviria Correa tightened controls during Semana Santa with a new decree banning vehicular traffic for passengers along the department’s highways, including national and departmental routes, with increased checkpoints to prevent travelers from spreading coronavirus to other regions. Transport of goods is still permitted.
The main focus of the measures covering the period from April 3 to April 13, is manned roadblocks on the entrances and exits of Medellín towards the municipalities of Antioquia during Semana Santa.
The goal is to prevent things from happening like during the four-day Medellín quarantine, when many travelers tried to escape and go to Santa Fe de Antioquia and Sopetrán, when the intention was for people to be quarantined at home.
The Days of Semana Santa in 2020
There are seven days of Semana Santa before Easter Sunday as follows:
Sunday, April 5 – Palm Sunday (Domingo de Ramos)
This day falls on the Sunday before Easter. The day commemorates Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. This was the beginning of the end for Jesus.
Monday, April 6 – Holy Monday (Lunes Santo) and Tuesday, April 16 – Holy Tuesday (Martes Santo)
These two days during Semana Santa are pretty dead in the big cities in Colombia like Bogotá and Medellín. Many small stores and some restaurants are closed. Normally these are good days to go to the movies. Or these are good days to head out of town to a nearby pueblo. But due to the coronavirus pandemic, people will be staying at home.
Wednesday, April 8 – Holy Wednesday (Miercoles Santo)
Holy Wednesday marks the end of Lent and the beginning of Easter.
In addition, this day is like a mini-Friday, as Thursday and Friday are official holidays. So, Wednesday is normally more of party night during Semana Santa with many bars and clubs open. But the bars and clubs in Colombia are currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic and everyone is supposed to be at home during the quarantine.
Thursday, April 9 – Maundy Thursday (Jueves Santo)
Maundy Thursday is a religious Holy day that is observed all over the world. It was established to commemorate the foot washing (Maundy) and the last supper of Jesus Christ with his Apostles. In addition, this holiday occurs the day before Good Friday.
Friday, April 10 – Good Friday (Viernes Santo)
Good Friday, also known at Holy Friday, Great Friday and Black Friday, is a religious holiday that commemorates the crucifixion – and eventual death – of Jesus Christ.
In the Roman Catholic tradition, this day is typically treated as a fast day – a day in which one only has one full meal and abstains from the consumption of meat.
Saturday, April 11 – Holy Saturday (Sabado Santo)
Holy Saturday remains for Catholics more like a day of waiting, waiting for the great celebration that will take place the following day on Easter.
In Medellín, normally the city is pretty dead. Also, I have experienced Bogotá to be pretty dead on this day. But in 2020, cities will be even more dead than normal due to the quarantine.
Sunday, April 12 – Easter Sunday or Resurrection Sunday (Domingo de Resurrección)
While not typically included as part of Semana Santa this is an important day. This day is a festival celebrating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Churches are Popular During Semana Santa
Catholics in Colombia take part in ceremonial pilgrimages to visit churches in the city throughout Holy Week to evoke the journey Christ made during his crucifixion. However, the churches in Colombia are closed in 2020 during this week due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Normally you will see processions in many cities in pueblos in Colombia during this week. But there won’t be processions in 2020. The processions celebrate the passion and death of Jesus Christ through parades. It is one of the oldest traditions in Colombia, practiced since the Colonial period.
In the metropolitan Medellín metro area (Aburrá Valley), there are over 300 Roman Catholic churches. Most notably, there is a complete list of all the churches of the Archdiocese of Medellín.
We previously looked at the top 14 churches in Medellín and the Aburrá Valley. All these popular churches normally become busy during Holy Week. And churches throughout Colombia normally become busier than normal during Holy Week. But the churches are all closed during the quarantine in Colombia.
Smaller Towns are Popular
During Semana Santa, some of the smaller towns in Colombia normally come alive. For example, during Holy Week in Colombia, the sleepy colonial towns of Popayán and Mompox are transformed into bustling religious gatherings. But this won’t happen in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Popayán’s Semana Santa processions were even added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists in 2009. Ancient religious images are paraded through Popayán’s historical downtown streets. And they are borne on wooden platforms.
People from all over the region and country flock to Popayán for the religious processions held during Holy Week.
The northern Colombian town of Mompox was declared a historical and architectural world heritage site. And Mompox has a long history of upholding Semana Santa traditions.
Residents of Mompox observe Holy Wednesday in a very distinctive religious celebration. They dress in their best clothing and participate in an evening procession through the streets. This procession concludes in a cemetery where they pass the night at the graves of loved ones, in a candlelit vigil, adorning graves with flowers and celebrating the lives of the dead with music.
The Valle del Cauca town of Buga is another popular destination for Holy Week. Each year, reportedly over half a million people descend on the town to take part in the Holy Week celebrations held around the large pink church – Basílica del Señor de los Milagros.
Pueblos are also Popular
Pueblos near Medellín and other cities are also popular during Semana Santa. For example, Jericó is known for being a religious pueblo. So, it’s a popular destination during Semana Santa. Also, Jericó is a pueblo where there are 19 churches for just under 12,000 inhabitants. And Santa Fe de Antioquia is another popular pueblo to go to during Semana Santa.
But in 2020, nobody will traveling during this week and there will be no Easter processions and no masses will be held in churches.
Girardota and Barbosa are two pueblos close to Medellín that are normally popular during Holy Week. These pueblos are very accessible via the Medellín Metro with metro bus connections from the northern Niquía metro station on Line A.
Girardota normally gets around 60,000 visitors during holy week. Also, Barbosa gets many visitors with its colorful Semana Santa processions that are similar to what you will find in many other pueblos and cities in Colombia. But this will change in 2020 with no processions and no travel to pueblos.
The Bottom Line: Semana Santa 2020 in Colombia
Semana Santa is one of the most important celebrations in Colombia. And this week is a popular time to take vacations in Colombia. But in 2020, this celebration will be completely subdued with no processions, no travel and no Masses in churches.
In over eight years living in Medellín, I have never traveled very far during Semana Santa. But in 2020, I will be staying home like everyone due to the coronavirus pandemic and quarantine in Colombia.
Typically I don’t like fighting the big crowds and also dislike paying high-season rates for transportation and lodging during Semana Santa. But several times in the past I have traveled on easy day-trips during Holy Week to nearby pueblos like Barbosa and Girardota.
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Editors note: updated on March 18, 2020 with information that Semana Santa will be different in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. There will be no Semana Santa processions and only small Masses in churches behind closed doors.
Editors note: updated on March 29, 2020 with information that Semana Santa in 2020 will have no Semana Santa processions and no Masses in churches and parishioners have been told to stay at home during Semana Santa due to the national quarantine in Colombia.
Editors note: updated on April 5, 2020 to add information that Antioquia tightened controls during Semana Santa and banned vehicular traffic for passengers along the department’s highways, including national and departmental routes, with increased checkpoints to prevent travelers from spreading coronavirus to other regions.