History of the country that took away “Santa” from Holy Week

(CNN Spanish) — “What are your plans for Easter?” I asked a friend a few days ago. “Tourism week, you say,” he immediately corrected me in a half-joking, half-serious tone. And in Uruguay the “holy” adjective was – officially – stripped from the key week of the Christian calendar more than 100 years ago. It’s tourism week at my in-laws’ house. And it’s also given other popular names, such as Semana Criolla and even Semana de la Cerveza, depending on where you are.

Don’t be confused: In Uruguay, Christianity – the majority religion – celebrates Holy Week freely (although, yes, with less visibility than in countries like Spain). And Easter eggs and bunnies are super-popular. However, since the beginning of the 20th century, laws recognize the week not as such, but as Tourism Week, which coincides each year with Holy Week for Christians.

This change began in 1919, when religious holidays were secularized: Holy Week became Tourism Week, Christmas became Family Day, Three Kings Day was designated Children’s Day, and the Virgin Day as Beaches Day.

The change in the name of the holiday is one of several actions the country took between the late 19th and early 20th centuries to completely separate the state from the Catholic Church, which had already been done. This is guaranteed in the Constitution. 1919. This is a process so unique in the region that it has become a case study for academics.

From cemeteries to holidays: how did Uruguay get rid of religious symbols?

The first significant milestone marking this process of secularization of the country occurred as early as 1861, almost 30 years after the country approved its first constitution. That year, the cemeteries, which had been under the control of the Church, came into the orbit of the state. From then on, until a constitution was approved in 1917 that formally separated the Church from the State and guaranteed freedom of worship, the Catholic institution increasingly lost real and symbolic power.

For example, in 1885, civil marriage became mandatory before religious marriage. And a few years later, in 1907, the divorce law was approved and references to God and the Gospel were removed in the oath of parliamentarians. A year ago, a decision was taken to remove all crucifixes from public hospitals.

One of the most important decisions came in 1909, when the teaching of religion was suppressed in public schools. José Pedro Varela, the promoter of secular, free and compulsory education in the country, had years ago summarized in these words the spirit that guided the decisions of politicians of the time: “Let us profess no creed, but let us Let religion believe in the future, our eyes are fixed on the star of justice, may it shine upon us; let us press steadily forward to prepare for the establishment of a democracy, in which the masses, converted into priests and kings, will have as their guide and Will get freedom in the form of God.”

However, the process was not uniform. According to academics such as Roger Gamont, the first decisions were not intended to secularize the country. However, beginning in 1885 an “anticlerical storm” began and by the first years of the 20th century there was already an aggressive attack led by the president who would shape modern Uruguay: José Batlle y Ordóñez, who served between 1903 and 1907. Had ruled. 1911 and 1915.

Tourism, Creole, Beer…

Losing its sanctity, Tourism Week in Uruguay took on many names associated with holidays celebrated throughout the South American country. For example, in Montevideo, Creole Week is prominent, an event organized by the city government, whose central spectacle is the popular and controversial horsemanship, in which riders show their ability to ride wild horses for as long as possible. Arena (a practice that has been strongly questioned by animal welfare activist organizations).

In Paysand, a department in the north of the country, Holy Week has become Beer Week. More than 50 years ago, a local winery employee proposed holding a festival to coincide with tourist holidays and the festival has grown since then. Of course, in addition to beer, there are also shows, gastronomy and crafts on offer.

What do Uruguayans believe in?

Research by the Pew Research Center in 2014, which is used as a reference in academic studies, placed Uruguay at the top of the Latin American countries with the highest number of people with no religious affiliation: 37% overall, among those Divided into those who do not have a religious affiliation to a particular religion (24%), atheists (10%) and those who define themselves as agnostics (3%).

Pew calls Uruguay an “exceptional” case. “In no other Latin American country surveyed do people with no religious affiliation even reach 20% of the population,” he says. To give context, in neighboring countries this percentage has increased to 11% in the case of Argentina and 8% in the case of Brazil. At the other end of the regional list is Paraguay, where barely 1% of people fall into these categories.

Regarding the religious affiliation of those who declared themselves part of a religion, the Pew Research Center study found 42% were Catholic, 15% were Protestant, and 6% belonged to “other” religions.

editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2023.


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