Semana Santa: Holy Week in the Dominican Republic

Semana Santa

Easter, Semana Santa, is the most important holiday in the Dominican religious calendar. It’s even bigger than Christmas, and more solemnly celebrated. This makes sense, since Easter remembers the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for all mankind, his death on a cross and resurrection.

While the resurrection is cause for celebration and joy, the week leading up to Easter Sunday is a more serious reminder of the suffering of Jesus’ last days on Earth before he died.

For this reason, you may find you notice a shift in the general mood during Holy Week in the Dominican Republic. The dates for Semana Santa are April 14th to 20th 2019, and April 5th to 11th 2020.

The DR is a Roman Catholic country, with the latest census showing that over 85% of Dominicans who identify as religious are Catholic.

Many Dominicans choose to travel home over the weekend to be with family, much like the annual Thanksgiving home visit in North America.

In Cabarete, the Semana Santa weekend means our beaches are full to capacity with Dominicans from all over the country who have come to party!

Some areas may experience little disruption to the normal routine, but many Dominicans in cities and towns are entitled to take the whole Holy Week off work.

You may find there are some activities that are not running because of the national religious festivities. Many areas ban motorised boats near public beaches, for instance.

Good Friday is the most serious day of reflection because it marks the day when Jesus died on the cross. Traditionally, a sort of sabbath is observed: businesses and stores are closed, and the day is spent in church and with family.

Noise restriction policies will often end early, say at 6 or 7pm, and you might find clubs and bars are closed that night. In some areas there will be a ban on loud music all weekend. In Cabarete, only classical music is heard on Good Friday, but the party mood will be in full swing once midnight marks the beginning of Saturday!

Expect big crowds of party animals in the Cabarete beach clubs, with live music and DJs playing all weekend long.

In cities and major towns, there will be a noticeable increase in the presence of the military, police and emergency service volunteers on the streets over the weekend. They are there to ensure the festivities run smoothly and without dangerous disturbances.

If you are near a city, you should definitely check out the city-wide parades and processions throughout Semana Santa, they are quite spectacular! Many streets are closed off, and all but the main roads out of the city will probably be totally empty of cars and other vehicles.

Santo Domingo has especially amazing processions and beautiful services.

There are special mass services during the week to commemorate Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday), Miercoles de Ceniza (Ash Wednesday), Jueves Santo (Holy Thursday, day of the Last Supper), Viernes Santo (Good Friday), Sabado Santo (Holy Saturday), Domingo de Resurrection o de Pascua (Resurrection or Easter Sunday).

On the Saturday night, many dedicated Dominicans will hold a vigil from around 11pm until dawn to bring in Easter Sunday and observe the last hours before the resurrection.

Special food is prepared for Semana Santa, usually in large quantities for extended family and visitors. Dominicans traditionally abstain from meat for Holy Week, so seafood and fish are eaten a lot. There is a special Dominican potato salad that is a favourite dish on this holiday.

One classic Easter feature is Habichuelas con Dulce, which is a spiced, cold, sweet bean pudding of sorts, made with condensed milk. Like a bean version of rice pudding, if you’ve ever had that!

This should go without saying, but please be respectful of this highly significant religious observance. This is pretty much the only week of the year when Dominicans are not inclined to party, so be sensitive and take note of the vibe during Semana Santa.

If you’re in Cabarete and the party is rocking, follow the lead of the local Dominicans as to when to let loose! Remember to always stay safe when there are lots of people crowding the beach. Don’t take valuables with you, don’t drive, and don’t swim drunk!

Have a dance, have some rum, and enjoy the celebrations!

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