Popular religion

Popular religion is a rich field of cultural expression for the Paraguayan people.  The imposition of the Catholic religion that precedes colonial times produced in Paraguay the same cultural phenomenon created in other American countries:  a syncretism of original elements of religion brought by the European missionaries with elements of indigenous beliefs.  This syncretism preserved an important space for the way of feeling and expression one’s own religion for the inhabitants of the old territory that extended into both sides of the Paraguay River.

Thus, the evangelicals themselves, by example, adopted the rich Guaraní theogony, the figure of the god Tupä, which they found to be similar to the Christian god.  The mother of this god, the revered Virgin of the Catholics, thus became Tupäsy (mother of Tupä).  Another striking example is the festival of San Juan, celebrated the 23rd of June, which adopted the rituals of the annual festival of fire, or the European Solstice, with its ancient origins, and in Paraguay they inspired a rich demonstration of magic games and unique celebrations.

The adoption of the Guaraní language by the evangelicals, and their use of it in the teaching of religion, and in the writings of the catechisms and sermons, gave favor to them and to the process of acceptance by the indigenous and mestizos in the new religion, and fostered the creation of self expression in religion.  This is how the religious chants came about, tied to the most important religious festivities for the Paraguayans:  la Semana Santa, or Holy Week, the week preceding and including Easter.  These melancholy and moving chants are sung in long processions laden with personal symbols, related to the passion of Christ.

The Paraguayan calendar is speckled with festivities that express the popular religion with its rituals and unique symbols.  Among those important holidays are:  the Kurusú Ara (Day of the Cross), the 3rd of May;   Saint John’s Day, the 23rd of June; Christmas Day, the 25th of December, All Saints Day, December 1st; Saint Balthazar’s Day, January 6th; Patron Saint Blas’ Day, 3rd of February; Day of the Patron Saint Our Lady of Asunción, 15th of August; the Day of the Virgin of Vaacupé, 8th of December.  The list goes even further with “Patron Festivals” that are celebrated in each town of the country, in honor of a sacred figure, protector of that particular place.

The expression of popular religion maintains validity in Paraguay, and some sects that had fallen into certain decline, have awoken praiseworthy attempts at revitalization and revalorization in recent years, with the support of the public and the defenders of popular culture.  Among these are the chant processions, and Christmas nativity scenes, which, in Paraguay, have found very exuberant creativity in local handicrafts.