While in most countries the culture is to shy away from discussions of death, Guatemalans (and other Latin Americans) embrace death. They use The Day of the Dead (El Dia de los Muertos) as an opportunity to celebrate the death and the life of loved ones and friends they knew in this world. If you happen to be around Guatemala during the 1st and 2nd of November and are looking for tips and background information to celebrate Día de los Muertos in Guatemala, this blog post can definitely help you!
Día de los Muertos – when and why?
El Dia de los Muertos is a celebration that takes place every year on the first and second day of November throughout Latin America. It is a day when Guatemalans remember their dead loved ones and celebrate that they were able to be part of their family. It is believed that the souls of the people that have passed away return to Earth to check up on their families during this day.
Día de los Muertos – how to celebrate?
People celebrate it in a number of ways in Guatemala, according to their own family traditions. Some key characteristics are; spending time with family, visiting the cemetery where your ancestors are buried, putting flowers on the mausoleums, saying prayers for the souls of the deceased, communing with the dead at an altar (ofrenda), attending a kite festival, or enjoying traditional foods.
Many will begin the day by decorating and cleaning the graves of loved ones, putting flowers on them, and sometimes, sitting and eating a family feast there.
Some families even pack up all their food, put on their best clothing, and head over to the cemetery to spend the whole day and night visiting with those who have left. Tradition says that a plate must also be served to the ones being visited and are thus placed on the ofrenda.
As the night comes, the cemeteries turn into big parties where the living relatives celebrate with the dead. Music and dancing accompany all-night feasting and communing with family both living and dead.
Día de los Muertos – traditional foods
Traditional foods that are prepared on the Day of the Dead often include fiambre (a cold salad-like cut dish including vegetables and meat), tamales, ayote en dulce (sweet potato in milk), and pan de muertos (a sweet bread). Outside the cemeteries you can find plenty of food and drink stalls. The photo below was taken at a local stand where I tried some traditional tacos.
Giant kites at Santiago Sacatepéquez and Sumpango
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. The highland villages of Santiago Sacatepéquez and Sumpango host huge Kite Festivals each year and are one of the best places to go in Guatemala to celebrate Dia de los muertos. In these villages you can see astounding and impressive display and flight of the famous giant kites. The main streets are clogged with kite sellers, food vendors and carnival-style game tables.
Día de los Muertos – Good to know
- A trip to any local market (mercado) at this time of the year will be 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.
- Visit a cemetery on the 2nd or 3rd of November in the very early morning to be able to see the decorated mausoleums the best without too many people around.
El Dia de Los Muertos is an interesting and nice holiday meant to remember the dead in a positive and joyous way. I think it’s a very interesting tradition to compare to your own traditions of death.
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