“How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!”
The real problem with Holy Week celebrations, Kristine, isn’t Nate’s theory about high versus low church and liturgy and ritual. The real problem is falling deities. Just ask any resident of San Pablo.
San Pablo is a sleepy Guatemalan town with an energetic Holy Week tradition. There’s a parade, of course, and bright costumes, and the kids wear masks painted with old Mayan motifs to represent the old spirits. There’s food, almost to match the duck tamales of Christmas. And music, and pageant. And then there’s the traditional crucifixion. At least, there used to be.
The real problem with crucifixion is finding a suitable volunteer. It takes either great courage or equally great foolhardiness to volunteer for the part where they strap you onto a big wooden cross and hoist you in the air in a ritualized mock killing. There’s usually a shortage of applicants for the position, and let’s face it, without a suitable victim, a crucifixion pageant really just isn’t the same.
Enter alcohol, stage right. San Pablo’s pageant organizers, like many others in the area, typically recruited the Christ figure from among the town drunks. They’d supply a bottle or three of the paint-stripper sold in local taverns as everclear, and ply the candidates with encouragement. Eventually some brave (and throughly three sheets to the wind) soul would volunteer for crucifixion. Or perhaps would be volunteered — what’s the difference, really?
The first sign of trouble in the system came one year when they forgot about Jesus. There was a festive parade, and a thoroughly soused Christ figure tied on to the cross; afterwards, everyone went home and ate tamales. Some time later that evening, someone remarked that they hadn’t seen Jesus for a while. Was he in a gutter somewhere, sleeping it off? Everyone assumed as much.
It wasn’t until hours later when they realized it — they had forgotten Jesus, and he was still on the cross. They took him down several hours late, by which time he was still half drunk, heavily hung over, and nearly hoarse from cursing a blue streak at the folks who had left him on the cross.
One might think that the memory of hangover Jesus would deter future organizers. No such luck. The annual ceremony continued in full force, until the events of a few years later.
That was the year that the Galilean carpenter — or at least, his inebriated stand-in — was hoisted by equally drunk friends, on a poorly assembled cross. A nail or two gave way under the weight, and the beam started teetering, and then suddenly it came unfastened. The result was quite bad. Jesus came crashing unceremoniously to the ground, and broke both legs in the process.
According to my sources, that was the last year that the Holy Week pageant in San Pablo included a crucifixion.