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Three Lenten traditions from your Latina abuela

Las Fiestas de la Paloma’ in Madrid’s La Latina District

Denis Doyle/Getty Images

MADRID, SPAIN - AUGUST 15: Firemen fix the image of their patron saint, La Paloma Virgin onto her carriage at the start of the procession during 'Las Fiestas de la Paloma' celebrations on August 15, 2015 in Madrid, Spain. The festival, held in the historic La Latina neighbourhood, is the most popular in Madrid celebrating the authentic (or 'castizas') traditions of the capital. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

Daniel Esparza - published on 02/13/18

You might remember watching 'Ben Hur' and Zeffirelli’s 'Jesus of Nazareth' every year, sitting next to your grandmother.

Hispanic and Latino are often understood as interchangeable categories. However, that’s somehow inaccurate. Whereas “Hispanic” refers to a shared linguistic identity (being a Spanish speaker), and also to a specific Iberian heritage (Spaniard and not Portuguese), “Latino” refers to both a geographic origin (that is, to those born in Latin America, regardless of their native language and inheritance) and a broader shared culture that includes the Latin Mediterranean.

If you’re Italian, for instance, you happen to be an heir to that original Latin culture of Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and Cicero. In fact, one might argue the term “Latin America” is used mainly in order to differentiate the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking American countries from the Anglo-Saxon and French ones. But that doesn’t mean you cannot be Latino-Japanese, Latino-Arab, Latino-German, and so forth: inheritance is one thing, and nationality and citizenship quite another.

Now, Latin American traditions, varied as they are, do share a main core: that of Catholic identity. Built upon Catholicism, Latin Americans have developed, throughout history, a rich set of traditions that have been passed on generation after generation, which vary slightly (or significantly) depending on the country, region or specific inheritance.

Here are three such traditions that most Latin American grandmas were likely brought up with, and their own abuelas, in turn, kept with religious fervor every year.

El Pésame

Good Friday is a day of mourning for all Christians, but in some Latin American countries, this mourning acquires a special dimension, as it is related to the Blessed Mother: most devotees would go to church on Good Friday to offer condolences to the Virgin Mary. Some parishes offer a special pésame service. Indeed, some people would consider all Fridays during Lent a special mourning date, explicitly recommending the younger keeping the fun “under control, out of respect.”

Via Crucis dramatizations

Sure, the Stations of the Cross are indeed common Catholic heritage. But in Latin America (probably due to a shared Hispanic tradition regarding processions) it is common to find people not only praying the Via Crucis inside a church, but rather performing it out on the streets. Normally, more than a dozen people gather and dress in costumes to dramatize the Passion of the Christ. Some towns are well known for taking this tradition to the next level, sometimes including hundreds of participants dressed as Roman soldiers, apostles and other characters.

Classic biblical movies

The Ten Commandments, Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth and even Camilo Sesto’s rendition of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s and Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar (in Spanish, of course) were not to be missed, year after year. The part in which your grandmother would go “¡Ay, Dios mío! Run, Judah, run!” while watching Ben Hur would always make everyone in the room laugh. She might not like the remake, by the way.

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