With the idea of embracing the Guatemalan culture this year, we pretty much skipped right over Halloween this year and decided to celebrate the day after instead. You've probably heard about the November 1st Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico with all those cute little skeleton guys in big sombreros, but here things are much different.
Here the day is called El Día de los Difuntos (day of the deceased) and is celebrated by families cleaning and adorning the graves of their loved ones past with cut flowers (marigolds & chrysanthemums), candles, incense and cut tissue paper. They also honor the dead with festive foods - tamales, candied fruits and fiambre (a cold meat and veggie dish). El Día de los Difuntos is very important through Guatemala, but especially in the town of Santiago Sacatépquez, when there is a heavy Kakchiquel (Mayan) population. It is there that the traditional kite flying ritual takes place. The kites are thought to raise messages to the deceased, informing them of where they can come down and visit their family members.
Preparation for the big day begin more than a month before, when kids begin to construct the kites from tissue paper. Customarily men did the majority of the work, but these days both women and children. The huge kites are intricately designed, often supporting religious, cultural and political themes. Before the kite making begins though, the unmarried men of the villages will travel to the coast to search out bamboo to be used for the frames. Tradition says that this journey marks the passage from boys to men. Upon their return the bamboo is distributed to the various kite making groups and the processes begin. The kite making process is all natural. Glue is prepared from yucca flower, lemon peel and water. The ropes used to hold the kites is made from maguey (the plant from which tequila is extracted). Even the kite tails, which are adorned with hand written messages, are made from woven cloth.
There are 3 main styles of kites. "Crown" kites measure 3-5 meters in diameter and have a circular frame with an empty center, "Moon" kites are larges circles that are 10-15 meters in diameter, and "Diamond" kites are shaped like a diamond and range up to 10 meters with a long tail.
Around 4am on November 1st, the people of Santiago begin to fill the cemetery where they clean, paint and decorate the family tombs while the reminisce about the deceased. It is a time of joy. The young people wait for the first strong wind to raise their kites. They kites soar until 4pm, when they are brought down so that all the people can return home to await the arrival of the souls .
Fortunately for us, we also happen to live in the department of Sacatépquez. Sunday morning we headed out with the masses to take in the spectacular kites. Albeit super crowded, the display of kites was absolutely amazing.