If you enjoy delightful smells, the colors of Easter, bright candies, Processions of grandeur, and feeling like you are a part of “something bigger,” don’t miss Leon for Easter. Also, if history is your hobby, there is so much to learn here. Locals delight in telling stories about the city, its places, and famous people from the past, so just get them talking! Now, for Christians, this is an especially significant time to be here.
Get a nice place to stay (better be with a pool), and spend 3-4 days of Holy Week in this great city. Founded in 1524 as “Leon Santiago de los Caballeros” (in honor of St. James the Greater in Spanish traditional depictions as a cavalry soldiers), Leon was located in the northernmost shore of Lake Managua until Momotombo Volcano forced its people to relocate in its current place in 1610.
Being one of the first historic cities, only behind Granada, Leon has a particular shine during Holiday celebrations.
Kids in the Park, eating a "raspado," a cup with frozen, hand shaved ice with flavoring
The city will have many religious processions from almost every parish Church and the Cathedral and Square will be busy. Moreover, visitors can buy special Easter candies, take part in a Mass, sit and watch life go by, or take a tour full of history at the Cathedral—inside, above, and even below of the building!
Moreover, good restaurants and music are abundant, and you can go visit several of Leon’s specially decorated Churches, built from 1620 A.D.
The Amazing Sawdust Carpets
My focus this Good Friday was to find the artists making “Sawdust Carpets” on the street. A Nicaraguan friend of mine had told me about it, but I had never been able to go and see for myself.
Sawdust carpets, you say? Yes, it’s a very old European custom originating in the Middle Ages, with the Spanish bringing it to the Americas. Nowadays, it is mostly celebrated in Central America, Mexico, and some other parts of Latin America. This tradition is practiced ONLY during Holy Week and traditionally in the “Calle de Las Alfombras” (Street of the Carpets), only 1 day a year on Good Friday. Let me repeat: one day a year!
Starting around 10:30 am, the families and artists make a large sawdust square or rectangle, held by boards, right on the street. Constantly wetted down, it is formed and shaped by the artist, who has a drawing of the “final product” as a guide. Some of them make use of stencils to gauge space they need to lay out their picture. The theme is obviously religious, depicting scenes of the life and passion of Jesus Christ, as well as other Bible passages and Catholic iconography.
The colors of Easter
Some of the carpets will have glitter and modern elements, and others will be made of more traditional materials: white rice, flowers, corn, seeds, and spices. Also, interestingly enough, ground volcanic rock and ashes from the nearby Cerro Negro Volcano is used for black color.
A Special Time of the Year for Everyone Involved
The artists in charge of making these carpets have a lot of dedication. After all, the locals say that the sun is always the hottest during Holy Week. You can see the excitement in the faces of the artists, as they know that people from all over the country and every single tourist looks forward to seeing them. Families sit along the sidewalk, by their houses, and know that by the evening, the street will be crowded with people to see their creations.
People gather as the carpets are slowly taking form
However, everyone is extremely careful not to step on the carpets. The people who carry during the Good Friday Procession are the ones who get the “honor” of destroying the beautiful carpets, at the end of the evening.
I came upon an energetic group of people and introduced myself. The young man wanted to speak English, so I learned that they were students of an Art School.
He enthusiastically told me how he had been honored with a Scholarship to go to Washington D.C., to show artists and researchers there, how they make the Sawdust Carpets. Also, as part of my Outreach to Non-Profits in Nicaragua, as a volunteer, I could meet the Project Leaders of this amazing initiative.
Group photo of the Taller Xuchialt Art School students and staff
The joy on people’s faces was evident, Holy week is indeed a special time of year. You will see lots of families with their kids buying small toys, eating handmade frozen treats, and just hanging out. It is truly special to see grandparents, mothers, and fathers explaining these special customs to their children. The next generations will continue doing and enjoying these traditions.
The new generations continue the tradition
Sadly, I had to leave early, so I couldn't enjoy the finished carpets. However, I was fortunate enough to have a friend who sent me pictures of the beautiful sawdust works of art. The final product is exquisite, but the skill and the relatively short time it takes is simply awe inspiring.
The famous "Carpet Street" taking form
People enjoying the carpets as the procession approaches
As for me, a definite return is in store for next year's Good Friday, hopefully with plenty more time to enjoy.
For more information on Leon, make sure to see the top things you can do in this beautiful and timeless colonial city. Also, did you know that Leon was recognized by Forbes as one of the 10 Coolest Cities Around the World to Visit in 2018?
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