This time of year always brings back memories of Easter in Belize, which is celebrated throughout the country with the all of the exuberance and variety that makes Belize the amazing little paradise it is. As with Christmas and other holidays, what makes a Belizean Easter unique is the combination of the familiar with the exotic. Whether you’re from the US, Canada, Europe or pretty much anywhere, you’ll find many of the things that you are used to, and some that you’re not, but all flavoured with Belize’s inimitable tropical melting pot style.
Even the tiniest shops stock chocolate bunnies and eggs, marshmallow chicks and jellybeans, and a well-stocked Easter dinner table would have hams, roasts, potatoes and hot cross buns as well as tamales, garnaches, salbutes, stacks of warm tortillas and the ubiquitous beans in their many incarnations.
You have the usual Easter decorations, but the riot of brilliant colours comes naturally from the springtime blossoms of flowers and trees, and with the usually perfect weather this time of year swimming and barbeques are traditional Easter holiday pastimes.
But for me it is the people and celebrations that make Belizean Easters so wonderful. Given Belize’s tiny size and ease of getting around, it’s possible to experience distinctly Creole, Mestizo, Maya, Garifuna, Mennonite German, Lebanese and Chinese celebrations all in one day. But given the warmth and friendliness of Belizeans, you’ll become quickly absorbed in the celebrations wherever you are and probably be happy to stay there.
Out west around the twin towns of San Ignacio and Santa Elena the mix of Latino Catholicism with other religions and cultures results in colourful pageants, church services, and a heady mix of food, music and social activities.
On Good Friday the atmosphere is deeply reverent, from the deserted streets and the little altars constructed outside homes and roadsides to the many church and home prayer groups. No alcohol is sold anywhere in Belize until after six pm this day, and the traditional three pm observance of Jesus’ death is observed in many places with respectful silence. The re-enactment of the Passion of Christ held in the border town of Benque Viejo del Carmen is an event people look forward to all year, drawing people from all around Belize and in neighbouring Guatemala. In almost every town and village worshippers follow the Stations of the Cross and attend church services throughout the day and up until midnight masses.
Holy Saturday is more relaxed as the markets come alive with socialising and people stocking up for Easter Sunday. This is the first real, casual day of the long holiday weekend, and it shows in the countrywide festive spirit.
Easter Saturday is also the day of the Annual Holy Saturday Cross Country Classic, one of Belize’s main sporting events. Attracting competitors from around the world, it starts in Belize City and runs west to San Ignacio Town’s central roundabout and all the way back to the city for a sometimes wild finish around the Marion Jones Stadium track. Bicycle racing is huge in Belize, and the Holy Saturday Classic has been attracting roadside throngs in every village it runs through as well as big crowds at the finish since 1928.
Easter weekend in West Belize is also a good time to visit the many Maya temples and archaeological sites, have a canoe ride down the beautiful Macal River, or just enjoy a quiet nature walk through the beautiful rainforest and jungle.
Out on the more Creole influenced coast and cayes, where bare feet and swimsuits are the normal daytime attire, celebrations are generally more casual in terms of dress, and the singing from the little churches has a definite Caribbean flavour and a laid back reverence that makes for some of the most enjoyable Easters I’ve spent anywhere. Swimming and snorkelling, except of course on Good Friday (children are told that they’ll turn into fishes if they swim) are big Easter activities in this land of year round lovely weather.
The Garifuna towns and villages such as Dangriga, Hopkins, and Seine Bight come alive after church services with exuberant drumming that throbs with its African roots, while the Mennonite villages such as Spanish Lookout shut down for deeply religious, quiet observations.
After the more secular celebrations of Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday sees a return to religious observance before the country settles down to kick back and eat. This is a day to spend with family and friends and sees many family members from Belize’s vast diaspora return home to visit loved ones.
By Easter Monday everyone takes advantage of the end of the four day weekend to relax before the working week begins. But there is still plenty to do as people take advantage of the last day of the holidays. Another big cycling race from Belize City ends in Burrell Boom where an afternoon of more racing, horse races, food and music awaits. Belizeans are an active bunch, and most districts will have featured horseracing and other sporting events on Monday.
By Tuesday most of the country is returning to work, perhaps a bit slower than on most workdays, but with those satisfied smiles of having enjoyed another well spent holiday in Belize.
With the beautiful weather, the many things to do, the sheer beauty of Belize and the warm smiles of a friendly populace enjoying life, Easter is a great time to experience Belize and see what makes the Jewel, as locals refer to it, one of my favourite places in the world.
Photo credit: tataduhendeh.blogspot.com