Round the world, people do things to remember their passed loved ones in different ways. It can be through celebrations and festivities or quiet prayer and mourning. In Guatemala, the most important holiday to pay respect to the deceased is on November 1st, All Saints Day or Dia de Todos Santos. On this day, the country transforms into a lively exhibition of remembrance filled with flowers, artistic decorations, and food.
The Kite Festival
A unique part of this Guatemalan tradition is the kite festival. This is a spectacular display of extravagantly enormous, brightly-colored kites that fill the sky. Locals say that these huge kites are used as a way to connect with the deceased, these kites take over the skies of Santiago Sacatepéquez and Sumpango where the largest kite festivals take place.
The kites are made with rice paper and bamboo, all of them boast different designs and can span up to 20 meters in diameter. The tradition states that the soul of the deceased is able to identify their family members by the color and design of the kite and communicate through the thread. Others include messages in the kites that generate social, political or cultural awareness. During the morning they are exhibited, then there is a competition, whoever keeps theirs in the air for the longest time wins (yes with enough wind, these large structures can fly).
At the end of the day, the kites are burned near cemeteries, which allows the dead to return to their resting place. The legend states that if the kites do not burn, the souls do not want to leave, which may be damaging to the relatives, crops or animals.
Prepping the Tombs
A couple of days before Dia de Los Santos, some families prepare the tombs to assure they look good on the day that the spirits of their loved ones come back.
Many spend time cleaning, painting and decorating the graves with lively colors. On the morning of November 1st, families begin their procession to the cemetery to pray and pay respect, often playing Mariachi music and singing favorite songs of the deceased. From single roses to enormous wreaths, flowers abound, converting cemeteries into colorful gardens. Outside, roads are flooded with themed street food. Church bells can also be heard announcing the time for Mass.
The Ribbon Race
Another way to celebrate is attending the Ribbon Race or Carrera de Cintas. This is a horse race where the riders dress in elaborate costumes boasting feathers and special jackets. The event celebrates Dia de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, which is also on November 1st. Carrera de Cintas takes place in Todos Santos Cuchumantanes in Huehuetenango, about five hours from the Guatemala City. The riders will try to stay on their horse all day, doing rounds on the 100-meter track, while drinking alcohol or agua ardiente. There are no winners or losers, and there are no consequences should they fall. The tradition, however, is that a rider must participate for four consecutive years to not have bad luck. Marimba music is played throughout the day.
At night you can enjoy a firework show.
Let's Eat! The Traditional Meal
The traditional meal to commemorate this holiday is El Fiambre, an authentic cold dish made with more than 50 ingredients including vegetables, sausages, meats, fish, egg, and cheeses. It is usually enjoyed with the family gathered either at home or surrounding the tomb of a loved one. This dish takes around two days to be prepared. The most common dessert is a sweet squash, sweetened with brown sugar and cinnamon, or sweet plums or chickpeas drenched in honey.
November 1st is definitely a good time to be in Guatemala!