Día de los Muertos in Guatemala

Día de los Muertos Giant Kites (photo Victoria Stone)

Día de los Muertos Giant Kites (photo Victoria Stone)

The end of October and beginning of November bring us Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. Celebrated in connection with the Catholic holidays of All Saints Day on November 1 and All Soul’s Day on November 2, this holiday is especially important in Latin America. While Mexico is best known for its Día de los Muertos celebrations, which include pageantry, processions and public display of altars to the dead, in Guatemala it is more often celebrated as a family holiday, and usually called Día de los Difuntos.

Here it is a time for families to gather together and go to the cemeteries where they paint and clean up the graves of family members, honor their ancestors with flowers, candles and prayers, burn incense and bring picnics to share. On these days, especially November 1, the cemeteries are full of life and celebration, and food and flower vendors set up shop outside the cemetery gates. For some, especially those who have family members who have died in the last year, it can be quite a solemn occasion—a time not only to celebrate that person but also to tell stories of their life and to mourn.

A trip to any market at this time of year will find it filled with flowers, especially the orange marigolds or sempa that are the most popular gifts for the dead. Many markets, such as the one in La Antigua, will also be filled with kites for sale, as the flying of kites is used as a means of communicating with the dead and showing them where to come down to visit their family members.

One of Guatemala’s two most spectacular Day of the Dead celebrations occurs in Santiago Sacatepéquez, just outside of Antigua. Here the cemetery is filled with people and is the site of the astounding and impressive display and flight of the famous giant kites. The main street is clogged with kite sellers, food vendors and carnival-style game tables. But where ever you may be in Guatemala, a trip to the local cemetery as a respectful observer will give you a visual feast and some insight into this important local holiday.

A time for families to gather together and go to the cemeteries where they paint and clean up the graves of family members, honor their ancestors with flowers, candles and prayers, burn incense and bring picnics to share.

photos by Victoria Stone

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