Sensuous Guatemala: Independence Celebrations!

Independence Day Celebrations (photo: Rudy Girón)

Independence Day Celebrations (photo: Rudy Girón)

The steady beat of the marching drum, the somewhat-less-steady march of student footsteps along the cobblestone, the sudden thump of a mortar, a shell climbing to burst into multicolors of celebration. Any good excuse is a good time for celebration, of course, but September holds a special one: Independence Day on the 15th, and the sounds, smells, tastes and sights are to be enjoyed all month.

School classes take weeks to practice: thum … thum … thumthumthum of the drummers, sharp notes from marching bands, chatter in the ranks from children not taking everything quite as seriously as they might. Meanwhile, older students pick their royalty to ride atop decorated trucks in the many parades, to dance along the routes, to party and enjoy.

Church bells, fireworks, auto horns, a few sirens echo along the streets and bounce off the white walls—days of practice, the day of independence, then days remembering if not continuing the celebrations. In dusty fields, carnivals are set up with wheels climbing to the skies and whirling platforms enticing kids and lovers alike. Blue-and-white colors break out, deep blue on new flags of governmental buildings, faded to almost blue-white on flags bleached by the bright September sun. The odor of the month is pungent punk, from the firecrackers and fireworks of celebration.

On the holiday night, globos add special color to the skies. Spheres of tissue paper in many colors, filled with hot air from burning wicks of cotton at the base, globos can float several blocks—or suddenly burst into golden flame if the flame gets close to the paper. So what if there’s a moment of danger wherever the globos fall? They’re beautiful when they float right, and they’re all part of the celebration.

There’s the president, the governor, the mayors, decked with their blue-and-white sashes of their mandate, making speeches from the balconies, the municipal band ready with trumpets and drums when speechs are done. Classrooms are decorated with drawings of heroes and flags, teaching the next generation about the rich heritage. There are the costumed dancers, the Spanish fighting the Moors, the dances of the animals. If you’re lucky, the toritos may be out, young men bent into frames of stylized bulls strung with firecrackers, chasing gleeful kids in the central squares. Sounds, sights, noise, music of celebration.

And there’s the happiest music of all, the marimba, a single player or a band, or sometimes many bands at the same time. Drink it all in, colors and noises and marchers and speechmakers, blended into happy celebration in the music of the marimba, this month and every month in sensuous Guatemala.

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