Today marks the beginning of Lent. In countries with a large Catholic presence like Guatemala, this means that you’re bound to see people walking around all day with ash crosses smudged on their foreheads. It’s the beginning of a season of slow-paced bustle set to the tune of marching bands. It is the time when the Cucuruchos (more on that later) awaken from their slumber and diligently carry religious images through the streets of towns and cities across the country on top of complex floral carpets carefully crafted for the occasion.
The tradition of Ash Wednesday can be traced back to the IX century. It was then that marking Catholics with the ashes of the burnt bouquets from the previous Palm Sunday started being a customary sign of the beginning of Lent. According to Eduardo Pérez, the Parish Priest of La Merced in La Antigua Guatemala, it marks the beginning of a period of forty days in which Christian Catholics have to reflect profoundly, and find change in their lives.
“There are many things that can distract us,” Father Eduardo continues. “Pretty things. Wonderful and spectacular things. But lent should be a motive of conversion. Processions are wonderful, but they should be done with profound love and faith, so they can lead to a meeting with the Lord to carry the daily cross.”