March 23, 2016
Easter is not celebrated the same way in Panama as it is in the US or Canada.
Below, I highlight some information that will help you out during Panama’s Easter celebrations.
I talk about how Panama celebrates Easter and about expat kids and Easter after this important list.
- You cannot buy alcohol from midnight on Thursday to midnight on Good Friday. (In Puerto Armuelles, and all of Baru, you cannot buy alcohol starting at 6pm on Thursday until Saturday morning.)
- Good Friday (the Friday before Easter) is a national holiday. It is the last holiday until the onslaught of holidays start in November.
- Starting at noon on Thursday (and sometimes earlier), all government offices and many businesses close until Monday morning.
- People flock from the cities to the interior and the beach. Keep that in mind, for both traffic and to expect buses going to the interior and the beaches to fill up fast.
- There is no easter bunny or coloring Easter eggs or chocolate easter bunnies here. Although with all the expats coming you do see some nod toward those western traditions. For instance, at our local Romeros they had a easter basket, with no chocolate bunnies, as decoration.
Panama is a mostly Catholic country. As I have said before, it isn’t a particularly religious country, but people seem to take Easter quite seriously. I will only mention the Catholic Easter celebrations here.
The week before Easter is known as Semana Santa, or Holy Week. Panama celebrates Good Friday much more than Easter Sunday. For those who don’t know, Good Friday marks the day that Jesus Christ died on the cross. Three days later, on Easter Sunday, he rose from the dead.
On Good Friday, throughout Panama, you will run across somber and religious processions, called the stations of the cross procession. Some processions (or solemn parades) have floats, some visit the stations of the cross that parishioners have constructed in various locations on the procession circuit, and some do both.
There are 14 stations of the cross. The first represents Christ being condemned to death, the others represent various milestones until he is laid to rest in his tomb, which is the last and 14th station.
Some Easter Celebrations in Puerto Armuelles
The largest Catholic church in Puerto Armuelles is San Antonio de Padua. It is located in downtown Puerto Armuelles. That church and many others are celebrating Easter the whole week of Semana Santa.
I caught a glimpse of a procession going into the San Antonio church on Holy Wednesday (see photo). And on Holy Thursday, I was driving down the main road through El Palmar and I passed a slow parade of cars. This long line of cars, with emergency lights flashing, was following a white van with a simple blue cross painted on the side.
I know of 2 other processions that San Antonio Church is having. I am sure there are even more activities, but these are the 2 I know about.
- The first is on Holy Thursday. There will be a silent procession for men. This is a male only event. I believe it starts at 10am from the church. I don’t know why it is men only, a local parishioner said it may be because men need the most spiritual help.
- On Good Friday, there will be a mass at around 6pm followed by the big stations of the cross procession at around 7pm. The faithful will walk a big circuit around the town visiting the 14 stations of the cross.
What Happens on Saturday and Easter Sunday
Once the ban on buying alcohol is lifted on Saturday, much of the religious aspect lifts as well. Of course, mass is also celebrated on both Saturday and Easter Sunday. But much fewer people attend on those days. For many, Saturday and Sunday is the time for beach, beer, and fun. To enjoy Easter holiday since there won’t be another holiday until November 3.
Here in Puerto Armuelles there is a big dance in town. You can see the banner hanging up in the town center with the details.
But many people also go back to work. As you will see in the photos below, one Easter Sunday the mango collectors came to pick mangos from our tree. The kids went from collecting plastic and dyed Easter eggs, to collecting mangos. More mangos were eaten than Easter eggs.
Easter Celebrations for Expat Kids
It can be challenging to celebrate Easter the way you would in the US or Canada. It is rare to impossible to find Easter egg dye, plastic eggs, and, hardest of all, chocolate Easter bunnies in your local stores. I have actually yet to find a chocolate Easter bunny in Panama. I did buy a mold in order to make my own, but I have only done that twice. It is alot of work, especially when you have to do it in secret.
It is a hard enough of a challenge to find white eggs to dye. Almost all of the eggs sold in Panama are brown. Actually, I don’t search for white eggs anymore. The brown ones work just fine for dying. The color is less vibrant, but deeper.
When we first came to Panama, our town didn’t even have food coloring in the stores. We used natural ingredients such as beets and berries to dye our brown eggs. Now our local the Romero Supermarket usually carries food coloring.
Of course, we don’t need to celebrate Easter here like we do in the States. But it is important for us to have our children feel part of both of their cultures – American and Panamanian.