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Last year at this time I was studying Spanish in Guatemala. It was lent when I was there and, during Semana Santa, Holy Week, the days leading up to Easter and the month before, daily religious processions and colorful sawdust alfombras filled the streets. Men, women, and children, dressed in hooded robes would carry heavy wooden platforms topped with elaborate depictions of Jesus. Up front, someone would swing a metal canister burning incense that left trails of smoke and musk. Some processions were small: one scene carried by a few people through the streets. Other times, they were big and...

"This reminds me of a music festival," my friend Charlotte said to me as we sat on a color-stained curb with four brochures outlining the day's Semana Santa procession routes open in front of us. "We need to figure out where each procession will be so we can plan our day to see them all." Almost every day for the two and a half weeks I'd been living in Antigua I'd run into a Lent-induced procession somewhere in town. They grew in size and number during Semana Santa - Holy Week - the days leading up to Easter. Larger and larger...

Throughout Lent, and throughout Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Antigua, the streets would be covered in elaborate alfombras carpets, made out of colored sawdust, fruits, vegetables, and a wide range of other materials. Some were quickly thrown together. Some took hours upon hours of work. Some families would stay up all night preparing their own. Some of my favorites were my favorites because of their ornate patterns and delicate details. Some of my favorites were my favorites because of something clever. Using children's toys to reenact Noah's Arc. Little fluffy lambs. 3-d renderings of whatever religious whatnot you could think of....

Horns were bellowing a death march. A loud drum kept the beat. Boom. Boom. Boom. It was an eerie orchestration that had been the soundtrack to Antigua, Guatemala, throughout lent, throughout Semana Santa. If you weren't hearing the deific tones from one of the frequent processions that took over the city you were hearing them from a boombox in someone's window. The air was thick with smoke from lanterns of copal incense children swung in tune (and often out of tune. And often in any direction they chose). Men shrouded in purple tunics swarmed the avenida. My heart was racing. My...