One of the most treasured traditions in San Gregorio Atlapulco, a pueblo of about 30,000 people in the southernmost part of Mexico City, is the celebration of Holy Week. Because of the pandemic, Holy Week events were canceled in 2020 and celebrated virtually in 2021. At several stages of the pandemic, San Gregorio recorded the highest number of Covid cases in Mexico City. Most residents know someone who died from it. “We lost many people,” Arturo Galicia Carrasco told me. “Parents, grandparents, friends.”
This year, despite fears of the new Covid variants, many people felt it was time to celebrate Holy Week in person once again. “Maybe it is not a good idea,” said Artemio Godoy Venancio, who owns a chair-and-table rental business near San Gregorio’s center. “But we have to return, little by little, to a normal life.”
These Holy Week celebrations are largely organized by a group of young men known as Los Varones. Before deciding what to do about this year’s celebration, leaders of Los Varones met with the parish priest. “We decided there were three options,” said Carrasco, a former Varone, “suspend it again, have it with the doors closed again, or about as normal.” Mexico uses a color-coded system to tell people what level of precaution to take against Covid. Red means the highest risk of infection, and correspondingly stringent restrictions. Green signifies low risk. “We decided that if Mexico was green, we could have Holy Week with precautions and changes,” said Ricardo Castro, one of the leaders of Los Varones. All of Mexico was declared “green” weeks before Holy Week and so the celebration proceeded as scheduled.
Not everyone agreed with that decision. Karla Manzanares Nieto, a photographer who has lived in San Gregorio her entire life, has documented life in the pueblo for years and has always attended the Holy Week ceremonies. But this year she had doubts. “I would like to go,” she told me, “but a lot of people are without masks, there is no social distancing, someone may want to talk to me.” Nieto is fully vaccinated but still contracted a mild case of Covid earlier this year. Her godfather died of Covid.
Still, the majority of San Gregorians wanted to celebrate in the usual, pre-pandemic way. Eduardo Gonzalez Morales, who works in the market adjacent to the local church, has his own misgivings—and takes his own precautions—but he thinks it’s time to return to the public events. “It is necessary because it is a tradition,” he said.