Wednesday, October 29, 2014


After living in Mexico and loving the country and the experience, we decided it was time to spread our wings.  We chose Guatemala as our next living destination.  We had previously visited Guatemala during their incredible Semana Santa (Easter week) celebrations in the old capital of Antigua. The beauty of the country and the indigenous culture had intrigued us.  We decided it was time to head south to Guatemala and what was to  become the beginning our “nomadic life.”  By luck we arrived in Guatemala  just in time for their wonderful Dia de los Muertos  (English: Day of the Dead) celebrations.  We were in for a wonderful experience and one I wish to now share with you.  So here we go to the All Saints Day Kite festival in Guatemala!  

Dia de los Muertos is a holiday celebrated annually  in many Latin American countries on November 1st & 2nd in honor of deceased family members and friends. However, the festivities differ in each country. Mexico celebrates with the building of ofrendas (altars) with personal mementos of the deceased and with offerings of the deceased favorites foods and libations. Guatemala, on the other hand, honors their departed loved ones by flying ‘barriletes gigantes’ (giant kites) over cemeteries. 

For centuries, rural communities throughout the highlands of Guatemala have celebrated with festivals featuring kites that carry messages to ancestors.  The largest of these kite festivals occur in two communities near Guatemala City, Santiago Sacatepequez and Sumpango, on November 1st during the All Saints Day Kite Festival.  This uniquely Guatemalan tradition is based on the belief that the kites are able to convey  messages that are tied to their tails to the spirits of the deceased loved ones.  While smaller kites are flown throughout the day,by the local populace, the largest are exhibition kites which can range from eight to twelve meters and larger in diameter. These ‘barriletes gigantes’  (giant kites) provide a focal point for the festivities and their imagery may on occasion convey current political and moral messages.

The vibrantly colored designs on the kites more often than not  depict religious or folkloric themes and are flown in honor of the dead. The kites are made of cloth and tissue paper on bamboo frames, Traditionally the building of the kites takes 40 days. On the  first day the village's unmarried men head out to the coast to collect bamboo for the kite frames. Many other materials for the construction of the kites are also found in nature. The glue is a mixture of yucca flower, lemon peel, and water  The ropes are made from the maguey plant.  And the tails are made from hand woven cloth.

The Kite Festival of Santiago Sacatepéquez is about honoring the dead and communicating with them. The giant kites of Santiago Sacatepéquez are masterpieces that take great skill and patience to complete. Kite teams work for forty days to design and construct these amazing kite creations which are revealed for the first time in public at the cemetery on November 1st , Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).  These kites bring team members great honor and respect from their peers and the community while honoring their deceased loved ones.  There are prizes for best design, but for the winners, the cheers and admiration of the crowd are reward enough.

The locals in the small municipality Santiago Sacatepequez dress up in colorful clothing and head to the cemetery on November 1st to spend the day cleaning the graves and decorating them with flowers. After the graves are properly cleaned family members and friends of the deceased  enjoy picnics at graveside.  

On the day of the festival, locals take their homemade  traditional-sized kites to the nearby cemetery in Sacatepéquez which they fly in honor of their departed loved ones.. This tradition of flying colorful kites on Dia de los Muertos is derived from various religious practises, including Christianity, and locals believe it’s a way to communicate with the dead. It’s a happy celebration where people have fun and honor those who are no longer with them.

The giant kites are brought to the cemetery in the morning by their respective teams where they are on display throughout the day for all to admire. The "barriletes gigantes," however,  do not take to the skies until dusk. It is an incredible spectacle seeing groups of locals struggling to get their huge masterpieces airborne.  It is only when they succeed, and the colorful kites head for the great blue sky that the festival is complete.

The strong autumn winds can shred through the paper easily, but the brief moments of seeing  the giant kites fly “to the heavens” is a beautiful thing.   Not always do the winds co-operate with the flying of these giant kites. And in reality, these extraordinary kites are not realistically expected to fly. They are more a symbolic art form, prayers for God, and messages for those who have passed away. Actually taking to the skies is a wonderful bonus, but not a given expectation.  What really matters to the participants and the observers is the beauty of the crafted designs and the intent behind them.  The beauty of the kites is fleeting, but the show is incredible!

I remember hearing many, many years ago that a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, I am a believer so clicking on the following link to my WEB ALBUM which has additional photos for this posting.


Please do not hesitate to contact me with any comments, suggestions, or questions. I may be contacted directly by email or by posting a comment on this blog page. Until next time, saludos and gracias, Laura

                                            Memories are just a click away!

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