Why I Embrace Semana Santa Despite Being a Nonreligious Latina

Getty Images | The Good Brigade
Getty Images | The Good Brigade

It's been nearly two years since I stepped foot in a church for Mass or Sunday service, but Semana Santa and Easter will always be special to me. As a Latina, I grew up in the Catholic church, and even when my parents were no longer active members, I continued to attend. I went to Catholic grade school and high school, and while I eventually found a nondenominational Christian church to attend as an adult, my faith was strong and unwavering most of my life. It was just a few years ago that I truly began to question what I had been taught to believe in. I eventually decided to step away from the Christian faith and the colonized view of spirituality that I held for most of my life. Still, there are some traditions that I choose not to let go of.

For Latinx people, Semana Santa is a big deal. In many families, it's bigger and even more important than Christmas. For me, it holds a lot of memories that are deeply intertwined with my ethnic identity and that will always be something worth holding on to. It's especially important to me — as the older generations of my family die out and the younger ones disperse to different parts of the country — that I can still pass down certain traditions to my children.

Shayne Rodriguez-Thompson

So, much like people who aren't religious but still celebrate Christmas, we still celebrate Easter as well. It's true I no longer believe that I will magically be saved from every horrible sin and misdeed by apologizing to God and accepting Jesus, but I do believe in family. And I believe in love and rebirth and starting new. I believe in celebrating life, and I believe in finding reasons to be joyful, gathering with those you love, being thankful for everything you have, and always striving to grow and be better as a person. And really, when I unpack it all, that's what Semana Santa taught me growing up.

I still see Semana Santa as a time for reflection and an opportunity to reset and refocus. It's a chance for a fresh start, a new beginning, and to allow yourself time for that each year. Good Friday is still a meditative day for me. It's a day to think about the sacrifices of my ancestors and remember to honor them with my actions in life today. I don't think I will ever not think of Viernes Santos as a significant day in the year.

I still take my children to Easter parades and events like the ones I went to as a child and, most importantly, I always make a concerted effort to spend time with family during Semana Santa and Easter in particular. Easter was always a day that I spent with extended family growing up — whether we went to church that year or not — eating and laughing and reconnecting with each other. And still today, it's a day that is much more about family and culture for me than anything else.

In Puerto Rico — where my family is originally from — Bacalao a la Vizcaina (stewed codfish) is a typical dish served on Easter. While I don't always prepare that particular dish, I do usually make some sort of white fish for Easter that's a part of a larger meal that multiple family members have a hand in preparing, instead of the meat-heavy dishes often served in the states on Easter Sunday. I also still dye eggs with my kids and make their Easter baskets.

We feast and we celebrate a new season, just like we did when I was a child growing up Catholic. We just do it without Mass or church or talk of Jesus. While that may offend some, for me it's a way to remember sweet times with my family, to honor the importance of family in my culture, and to create beautiful memories for my children that they will hold close to them for the rest of their lives.