Holy Week/Easter (varies): Also called Semana Santa in Spanish. Holy Week is the week prior to Easter and is celebrated with far more vigor than most places in the US. Churches will hold special Semana Santa services throughout the week, highlighting and retelling the story of the crucifixion. Salvadorans also enjoy chocolate bunnies, coloring everything in pastel colors, and Easter egg hunts as well. There are certain foods that are served around this time, like dried fish with eggs, different kinds of candies made from mangoes and plums with honey, as well as a sweet bread called torreja. Processions are common, and one tradition that some cities do is to lay down a carpet of sawdust with brightly colored flowers to decorate the streets.
Labor Day (May 1): This day is used to celebrate the worker and is also used to discuss the state of labor and labor issues at hand. Many cities hold parades on this day, and many people use this day as a means of protesting different labor issues, such as low wages and rising costs of goods.
The Day of the Cross (May 3): This holiday is a mix of Catholicism and indigenous believes. People place a cross made of the jiote tree in the courtyard and place fruits underneath it, mainly seasonal ones like mangoes, bananas, and cashews (I wanted to try cashews when I went to Brazil, but because it was early spring, and I was in the south of Brazil, it wasn’t in season). People will pray before this highly decorated cross and eat the fruit afterwards. The Spanish tradition celebrates St. Helena’s discovery of the Cross of Christ, and the Indian tradition is a celebration of Mother Earth and the god of skinning, Xipe Totec.
Mother’s Day (May 10): While Mother’s Day in the US changes every year (it’s the second Sunday in May), in El Salvador, it’s a fixed date. Mothers there are held in higher esteem than what I feel they are in the US sometimes. In El Salvador, they are the glue that holds families together and are often the ones taking care of running the family. People will often take a day or two before or after Mother’s Day to travel to see their mothers and shower them with treating them to a meal out, flowers, jewelry, etc.
Father’s Day (June 17): Like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day is celebrated on the same day every year. And without saying so, Father’s Day is treated in the same manner, with treating your father with gifts and doing thoughtful things for him.
August Festivals (August 1-7): This weeklong festival is in honor of San Salvador’s patron saint, Jesus Christ. (The name of the country El Salvador literally means “the savior.”) Primarily held in the capital of San Salvador, a variety of events fill the week including parades, music festivals, fireworks displays, street fests, etc. Many people will have at least half the week off from work and will head to the beaches or mountains to find some R&R.
Independence Day (September 15): This marks the day that El Salvador declared its independence from Spain. Town and cities across the country celebrate with parades and fireworks displays. School marching bands play patriotic songs, and cultural and historical displays decorate the towns. The day always ends with a huge fireworks display.
Day of the Children (October 1): This day is aimed at celebrating children. On this day, towns and cities will have events for children for parents to take their children to.
Day of the Race (October 12): Held on the same day that Americans celebrate Columbus Day, many Hispanic countries do not necessarily celebrate Columbus’ landing in the Caribbean. Because Columbus wasn’t really the most gracious of guests, it left somewhat of a bad taste in the mouths of many of these countries. So, they changed it to “Day of the Race” (or “Dia de la Raza” in Spanish) to celebrate their Hispanic heritage. Many parades and cultural festivals are held on this day.
Day of the Dead (November 2): This holiday is celebrated throughout the Hispanosphere. It’s a holiday to celebrate those who have passed on. People often visit the graves of loved ones, pray, and lay wreathes and flowers. Sometimes they use fragrant flowers and branches to make it smell good. A popular food at this time is tamales.
National Festival of Pupusa (November 7-13): This is the national dish. In fact, we’re making this when I cook Salvadoran food this weekend. It’s like a thick corn tortilla filled with cheese, refried beans, and sometimes shredded pork and then fried and served with a side of curtido, a Salvadoran cross between sauerkraut and Korean kimchi. There are pupusa eating competitions and awards to those who dedicate their lives to making pupusas. In fact in 2007, many Salvadorans got together to make the world’s largest pupusa and made it into the Guinness Book of World Records – it was large enough to feed more than 5000 people.
Queen of the Peace Day (November 21): Queen of the Peace is the patron saint of El Salvador. Huge festivals take place, rivaling that of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. The largest celebrations are held in San Miguel. Music is such an integral part of this festival that you can find up to 45 bands performing throughout the celebration.
Christmas Eve/Christmas Day (December 24-25): As a primarily Christian country, Christmas is no doubt the largest holiday of the year. Roasted turkey, chicken and a variety of sides, desserts, and alcohol are commonly found at Christmas dinners. Fireworks are also popular as well as singing and dancing. In El Salvador, people generally celebrate on Christmas Eve with family and friends and place gifts around a decorated Christmas tree and nativity scenes (which are a must).
New Year’s Eve (December 31): Like other countries, New Year’s Eve is celebrated by large parties and festivals, and people turn the streets into a giant party atmosphere. Salvadorans count the minutes down with the rest of the world and at the stroke of midnight, fireworks displays are set off, and the party continues. Food, alcohol, music, and dancing last until the early hours of the morning.
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