Dia de Todos Santos: All Saints Day

Festival of Kites

Last year I went to the Festival of Kites in Sumpango to experience how people celebrate All Saints Day here in Guatemala. The Festival of Kites held both in Sumpango and Santiago Sacatepequez requires months of preparation.

Groups begin as early as 2 months in advance constructing the gigantic kites that are put on display for this day. These gigantic kites are nothing like you could ever imagine. Huge works of art, they are constructed with bamboo poles, cloth, and paper and typically depict religious or folkloric images. Some of the kites I saw featured strong messages about women’s rights, Mayan culture, and the struggle for peace. The majority of these kites are in fact so large they aren’t intended to be flown.

Sumpango and Santiago Sacatepequez. Antigua can also be seen!

Having the largest, most elaborately designed kite wins you the respect and admiration of others. There are multiple beliefs behind flying kites on this day. Some believe that these huge, colorful kites flown way up in the sky will help guide people’s loved ones from the heavens back to the earth, while others believe the opposite, that the kites help raise peoples souls from the graves to rest in heaven.

I spent a good deal of time watching two boys flying a very large kite, not one of the gigantic ones, but impressive in itself. I never really thought of kite flying as hard work, but after watching this two person team spend 45 minutes reeling in and slowly letting out their kite , I changed my mind. They let me hold the kite for a few minutes, not completely on my own with one boy serving as my anchor, and I felt the wind pulling the kite, and tugging my arms. Flying kites this large definitely requires strength and concentration. Not everyone wants to take on the challenge of flying these monstrous kites. Most families bring their own smaller kites to fly in the field nearby. Leading up to All Saints Day the markets throughout Guatemala are full of small kites to buy, made of all different colors and designs, some even feature Dora the Explorer or other kids favorites.

The Place to be on All Saints Day…..The Cemetery

In addition to walking amongst the kites, families gather at the nearby cemeteries to decorate the graves of departed family members. Cemeteries in Guatemala are very different than cemeteries in the United States. Graves are painted in bright, bold colors and there is a general atmosphere of joy and celebration. The idea is to celebrate the lives of the departed, to remember them when they were alive, rather than mourn their death. Some families will spend the whole day at the gravesite, sharing memories, sharing food, enjoying Mariachi music, and flying small kites. The graves are covered in colorful flowers, grasses, wreaths, candles, and crosses.

 Fiambre Hambre

Typical food prepared on All Saints Day is fiambre. Fiambre is a cold salad dish that can include over 50 different ingredients, such as meats, pickled vegetables, cheeses, and olives. Each family makes their own version, including their favorite foods. Fiambre originated from the tradition of bringing the favorite foods of departed family members to their grave. Eventually foods were mixed together, resulting in this all encompassing salad. Check out the link to see pictures of types of fiambre. Think you would be brave enough to try it?

Time to Reflect

To me, All Saints Day is a beautiful holiday, full of festivities, family, and food. I love the idea of celebrating the life of departed loved ones, and of bright, beautiful cemeteries.  While not everyone ventures out to see the gigantic kites, I noticed on the bus ride to and from Sumpango that every cemetery, from the most humble of cemeteries to the largest, most elaborately adorned, was full of people and the sky was full of kites. It was a unique experience for me, and I look forward to participating in the festivities again this year.

It reads: This is my land rich with customs and traditions.

It reads: To love Mother Earth is the law of life, peace, and love among all humanity.

Kite depicting Mayan traditions.

Garlands and flowers add more joy to this already colorful grave.

Flowers and wreaths add life and beauty to this grave.

How many cemeteries look in Guatemala.

Families flying kites near the cemetery.


Other sites to check out to learn more about All Saints Day:
1. Que Pasa Magazine-All Saints Day
2. International Living- Guatemala’s Giant Kite Festival
3. Oddity Central- The Giant Kite Festival of Guatemala

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