Why Uruguay celebrates “Tourism Week”—not Easter

Latin America is associated with Catholicism. As ever Uruguay is the outlier—with complete separation of church and state for over 100 years.
By Karen A Higgs
Last updated on March 23, 2022

When Argentina’s Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio became Pope Francis, Uruguay’s then President José Mujica didn’t attend the inauguration.  “Uruguay is a totally lay country,” explained Mujica at the time. “There is separation of church and state since the last century. Uruguay is different from the rest of Latin America regarding this. We have great respect, there is freedom of worship, but we are not believers.”

In Uruguay there is a strict separation of church and state, which dates from the end of the nineteenth century when young liberals were reportedly opting for the “pleasures of the countryside” rather than respecting religious holidays like Easter.

In 1886, a newspaper from Salto tutted over the hunting expeditions preferred by “young people in our society who care nothing for excommunication and other trifles”. Today Salto is a major Tourism Week destination for Uruguayans who at the first onset of autumn flock to the hotsprings there.

My grocer, a guy called Marcelo, takes one holiday a year – to go hunting during Tourism Week.

In 1909, under the influence of reformist President Jose Batlle y Ordonez, religious instruction in public schools was banned, and a complete separation of church and state was written into the 1917 Constitution, continuing to this day.

By 1919, all religious holidays were secularised.

Epiphany (January 6) became known as Childrens’ Day (it’s a day when in Catholic cultures children receive presents) and Easter as Tourism Week.

I can testify – everyone here refers to Easter as “la Semana de turismo”. It’s not a case of officious political correctness.

Further reading

Photo: The National Shrine of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Iglesia del Cerrito) in Montevideo

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4 Responses

  1. Hi, I’m planning to visit Uruguay for two weeks in April over Easter or tourism week. Is there anything that I should avoid doing over tourism week or anything that will be closed?
    I’m planning to spend time in Montevideo and some time at an estancia, is there anything else that is especially good to do over tourism week?
    I have both of your books and have found them very very helpful!

    1. Hi Kelsey, that’s so great you’ll be here for two weeks and that you are finding the Guru’Guay guidebooks really helpful! Montevideo is pretty empty during Tourism week as you will have read in The Guru’Guay Guide to Montevideo so if you can plan to be here before or after that would be my recommendation. The estancias and beaches will be working pretty much as usual. So plan to hit an estancia and/or the beach during Tourism week. You will have seen the matrix for helping decide which estancia is for you in my Guru’Guay Guide to Uruguay: Beaches, Ranches & Wine Country but if you need any further guidance, don’t hesitate to contact me on the Guru’Guay Facebook page. All the best Karen (PS I’d be really grateful if you’d like to review the guidebooks on Amazon. It really helps us get more readers. Cheers!)

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