Semana Santa: Easter celebrations in Chile

A beginner’s guide to the week-long celebrations this April 1 to 8, offering a fascinating view of religious culture in Santiago and the regions.

So it’s your first Easter in Chile and you’ve no idea what to expect?
The first thing to remember is that a Chilean Easter is celebrated over a week, from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday (April 1 to 8 this year).
Along that same vein, forget about the chocolate eggs and bunnies. Chile remains by and large a Catholic country, and while this doesn’t mean that the average Chilean makes it to church every Sunday, families make a point of joining together to celebrate the year’s holy days with large meals at home and a Catholic mass at church.
Good Friday (April 6 this year) is one of these very holy days, making it a national bank holiday in Chile and converting the Easter holiday into a three-day weekend for tourists and locals alike.
To start planning, check out ThisisChile’s 2011 Easter guide, in which we gave you the lowdown on some of the nation’s most traditional festivals and historic churches to visit over the Easter holiday.
This year, we’ve sat down at the drawing board and come up with another three ideas for your long Easter weekend in Chile.
Explore Santiago’s religious side
Adding to the hordes of Chileans touring their country’s top destinations are thousands of Argentine tourists, looking to make the most of these fleeting beach days by heading across the border to Chile.
While Chile’s tourism hot-spots like Pucón and Viña del Mar are nearly all filled to capacity over Easter, and hotel rooms need to be booked well in advance, there is one exception to this rule: Santiago.
The capital empties out over the long weekend. Typically traffic-clogged streets turn quiet, the air is clear and this bustling metropolis becomes peaceful – making it the perfect time to get out and explore the city.
If you are in Santiago, head to the Easter Vigil at Cerro San Cristobal’s chapel at 7:30 pm Saturday, to watch the faithful light candles as the city lights begin to twinkle and the sun sets on the Santiago skyline.
Easter Sunday mass at the historic Metropolitan Cathedral offers a good opportunity to see the 18th century at its best. Services begin every hour on the hour from 9 am to 1 pm to accommodate all the crowds, but if you’re interested in a real treat, plan to go to the service at noon, where Santiago Archbishop Monseñor Ricardo Ezzati is presiding.
Take in a classical music concert
Classical music becomes all the rage during Semana Santa, offering a great chance to check out some of the beautiful concert halls across the country. If you’re in Santiago, head to the Teatro Universidad de Chile in Plaza Italia to see the Chilean Symphonic Orchestra performing Johann Sebastian Bach’s The Passion According to Saint Matthew on Thursday, April 5, at 8 p.m.
If you find yourself in Chile’s south this Saturday, head over to the stunning new Teatro del Lago (“Lake Theater”), built over Lake Llanquihue in the shadow of Osorno Volcano, to see the Cuarteto Filarmónico perform Stabat Mater by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi. While you’re there, get to know Frutillar, the small town of German heritage in Chile’s beautiful lakes district.
Enjoy Chile’s finest seafood
Catholics traditionally do not eat meat on Good Friday – a prohibition that leads most observers in this country with thousands of miles of coastline to opt for a meal of fish. So wherever you are in Chile, head toward the most famous seafood markets – Mercado Central in Santiago, Caleta Portales in Valparaíso, the Mercado Fluvial in Valdivia – to hang with the locals as they partake in one of the great culinary joys of living in Chile.