Sensuous Guatemala: Holiday Mélange

Red and green are the traditional holiday colors around the world, including Guatemala. Here, however, sight is not the only sense involved in the year-end celebrations. Pungent odors and delightful tastes combine with vivid colors and sweet sounds in a multi-sensory holiday mixture. Bells ring with special joy, carolers sing, marimbas play the music of the season throughout the Highlands and down to the beaches along both coasts.

Red, intense holiday red, glows from clusters of poinsettia plants in homes and on the streets, in elegant newly woven blouses worn by proud indigenous ladies and in bougainvillea spilling from gardens over bright white walls. Deep glowing red shines, too, from garlands of chilies, contributing their snap and crackle as they roast on grills and their sharp taste to holiday foods. Red skies at sunset are matched by red flames in fireplaces that also contribute pungent odor from the smoke curling above homes.

Green pine needles scattered on freshly swept red tile floors give a rich odor that can almost be tasted as walkers crush them while shopping and partying. Green hillsides of the Highlands clean and bright as another rainy season closes, gives more of the rich pine smells and earthy odors from green corn fields. Green banana leaves wrap sweet red fruit stuffing in tamales, and green garlands hang on doorways and drape across church altars.

But holidays here aren’t just reds and greens. Gold is in nativity scenes, often woven of straw and gold tones gleam from corncobs on glowing red coals. Browns in the hillsides are mirrored in cups of hot chocolate offered singers visiting doorways during posadas and brown beans of coffee emerge from the red berries beginning to be picked in December.
Yellow flowers in the fields are matched by yellow, cream and golden butters, cakes and cookies on dining tables and by yellow ripened bananas, finger-sized and rich in flavor.

Blue, of course, is not only the color of Guatemala’s flag, but also that of the skies most days of the year, and of the Pacific shores and the Caribbean breakers, with their salty tang and taste. Blue in the deep lakes, reflecting purple peaks of volcanoes, turns purple at dusk, the color of penitents’ robes in holiday processions. Blue is strong all year throughout Central America, yet blue tones seem especially vivid in the bright sunlight of this season. And, of course, there is orange, on a rind of citrus and in a glass of juice; there are grays, in charcoals and in the curling incense; always there are rainbows of colors in the ever-blooming roses and occasionally a rainbow arching across the skies as a brief shower freshens the air in a holiday-time rich for all the senses.

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