Holy week is a time worshipped and enjoyed my many cultures and countries. During this special time of the year, many churches host special services and events in honor of Jesus' death and resurrection. From somber processions to joyous celebrations, it's a time for families and individuals alike to come together and remember the power of love, hope and redemption found in the Easter story. As i've mentioned before...religion in Latin America is HEAVILY mixed with mystical and supernatural undertones.While we practice and worship in our churches, we also honor and follow the traditions of our Indigenous and African ancestors. The word witch and Bruja have very different meanings in Latin America vs. North America. When I was growing up in the countryside, we frequently heard stories about witches flying around and ghosts appearing at night. While we were more open-minded about the unknown, we didn't treat all supernatural occurrences as identical and didn't discriminate against any of them. We cherish learning from our ancestors. That being said, some of the following may sound like witchcraft or religion and even science to a certain degree. Take what resonates, leave what doesn't just remember to keep an open mind.
The Dominican Republic is a country rich in cultural and spiritual traditions that have been passed down for generations. These traditions are an integral part of daily life for many Dominicans, and they play an important role in promoting mental health and wellbeing. Semana Santa, or Holy week, being one of them. This tends to be a time of celebration and joy around the country. Although we abstain from eating meat and offer prayers, we also indulge in week-long celebrations at our beaches and rivers. And while we do not practice magic as a sacrifice, we do put buckets of water out at night to collect Holy water that is magically transformed on Good Friday. Although our Holy week may not be approved by the Pope, it's an important part of our culture that I personally enjoy. It represents a duality of unapologetically embracing life and love.
Prayer is an important part of Dominican spiritual life. Many Dominicans start and end their day with prayer, and it is common to see people praying in public spaces, such as parks and plazas. Prayer is seen as a way to connect with a higher power and find comfort and guidance in difficult times. Prayer, particularly the use of psalms, is a prevalent and potent tool in our witchcraft practices. To us, they are not divided but one in the same. Many Dominicans also have altars in their homes or workplaces, which are adorned with religious icons and other symbolic objects. These altars are a way to create a sacred space that promotes peace and tranquility. We have small replicas of our homes in our front yards with gates used to hold religious figures. In other words, these altars serve as a home for the religious figures. And they are EVERYWHERE in the Dominican Republic. I'm honestly a bit ashamed I can't recall their name, I believe its just called the centro espiritual, the spiritual center of the home. But it's always a tiny cement house replica for the Religious Icons and their offerings of course.
Music is an important part of Dominican culture, and it is often used in spiritual practices. Traditional Dominican music, such as merengue and bachata, has a strong rhythm and beat that can be uplifting and energizing. Many Dominicans use music as a way to lift their spirits and improve their mood. But it's also an integral part of our spiritual rituals, in order to become entranced. Our ancestors used music to invoke spiritual power, and it is still a central part of many Dominican spiritual practices. Music, is life in the Caribbean, every action and emotion driven by a defining beat. Now, Semana Santa can't occur without it's famous dessert...that we eat at all times of the day. Habichuela con dulce, a sweetened bean dessert and another important part of our traditional spiritual practices. It is believed to be able to attract good luck and protection from evil spirits. Many Dominicans will make it as an offering or thank-you gesture when they are in need of spiritual help. Habichuela con dulce can also be used as an offering of gratitude for a job well done or for any good luck that may come their way. Whenever I go back home to Washington Heights, I find myself on 182nd street and Saint Nicholas ave. patiently waiting in line for my delicious treat.
These are just some of the many spiritual traditions found in the Dominican Republic. From prayers to music to habichuela con dulce, our spiritual practices have been passed down from generation to generation and remain vibrant and important aspects of our culture. Regardless of your religious beliefs, these traditions serve to remind us all that we are part of something much larger than ourselves and can find comfort in our connection with the spiritual world.
This is especially relevant during times of crisis, when it is important to remain connected to our sense of community and spirituality. As Holy Week comes to a near end, I hope that all of us can find peace and respite in the spiritual traditions of our people. Latin America, in addition to the Caribbean, is a culturally and spiritually rich region where ancestral traditions have been handed down through generations. Many of these cultural practices coincide with spiritual practices and beliefs, creating a unique blend of spirituality and culture. Here are some cultural practices that coincide with spiritual practices in Latin America:
Dia de los Muertos: Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a traditional Mexican holiday that is celebrated on November 1st and 2nd. It is a time when families come together to honor their loved ones who have passed away. The holiday is a blend of indigenous and Catholic traditions and includes building ofrendas, or altars, that are decorated with flowers, candles, and food offerings.
Santeria: Santeria is a blend of African, Caribbean, and Catholic traditions that is practiced in many parts of Latin America, including Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. It involves the worship of orishas, or deities, who are associated with different aspects of life. Santeria ceremonies involve music, dance, and offerings to the orishas.
Curanderismo: Curanderismo is a traditional healing practice that is found in many parts of Latin America, particularly in Mexico and Central America. It is a blend of indigenous, Catholic, and African traditions and involves the use of herbs, prayer, and other spiritual practices to promote healing and balance in the body and mind.
Andean Cosmovision: Andean Cosmovision is a spiritual tradition that is practiced in the Andean region of South America, including Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador. It involves a deep reverence for the natural world and includes practices such as offering ceremonies to the earth, the sun, and the moon.
Carnival: Carnival is a popular cultural festival that is celebrated in many parts of Latin America, particularly in Brazil and Trinidad and Tobago. It is a time of music, dance, and celebration, and often includes elaborate costumes and parades. Carnival has its roots in African and indigenous traditions, and it is often associated with spiritual beliefs and practices.
These are just a few examples of the many cultural practices that coincide with spiritual practices in Latin America. By understanding and appreciating these traditions, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the rich cultural and spiritual heritage of this region. While spirituality may be feared and persecuted in North America, it's embraced and respected in Latin America.