In Guatemalan culture, death is not viewed as the end of existence, but rather as a transition to another stage of the soul. This belief lends a unique and profound significance to the end of earthly life because it suggests that our time on Earth is not the only chapter, nor is it for our loved ones. This is where the celebration of All Saints’ Day in Guatemala takes center stage.
While November 1st is also referred to as the “Day of the Dead” in Mexico and other Latin American countries, it carries distinct and special characteristics in Guatemala.
Honoring Loved Ones
In Guatemala, All Saints’ Day is a cherished occasion for families to remember and honor their loved ones who have passed away. This is done by visiting cemeteries and burial grounds. Each family takes it upon themselves to decorate, paint, and fill the resting places of their dear departed with vibrant flowers and an atmosphere of joy. Some cemeteries burst into a kaleidoscope of colors during this time.
In addition, it is customary for families to leave offerings of food for their departed loved ones, as it is believed that on this day, the souls of the deceased return to their resting places to share a moment with the living. Mariachi music may fill the air, or the favorite tunes of the departed may be played. The primary objective is to pay homage to family members and fondly remember them with great affection and happiness.
Celebrating Local Traditions
Each community and department in Guatemala has its own unique way of celebrating All Saints’ Day.
In Sumpango and Santiago Sacatepéquez, the Giant Kite Festival takes place. People dedicate months to preparing for this event, and on November 1st, they send kites of various colors and themes soaring into the sky. The sight of these colorful kites is breathtaking, and they symbolize the connection between the earth and heaven. It is also believed that these kites help ward off any malevolent spirits that may disturb the good spirits visiting their families.
However, other Guatemalan communities have their own distinctive customs.
For instance, in San José, Petén, there are processions featuring the veneration of the Holy Skull, while in Todos Santos Cuchumatán, people don their traditional attire, and thrilling horse races take place.
Despite the regional variations, the common thread running through all these celebrations is the importance of coming together as a family.
All Saints’ Day is a perfect occasion to share a meal, with “fiambre” being one of the most cherished dishes in Guatemalan culture. Fiambre is a delectable dish made from a medley of vegetables and cold cuts. Furthermore, sweet treats such as “buñuelos,” “molletes,” or fruit-based desserts like “ayote en dulce” are prepared to add a touch of sweetness to the festivities.
All Saints’ Day is a day to unite with family, both those who are present and those who have passed away. Above all, it should be celebrated with joy, affection, and a feast of delectable flavors!