Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Halloween & Day of the Dead

Let's go fly a kite... up to the highest height...

We wondered if and how Halloween might be celebrated in Guatemala...it turns out, they don't really do much. There are some Americans who have imported Halloween, so you see a little bit of decorations and candy, but for the most part it is a non-event. This was just fine with me - we have had many years of fun - dressing in cute costumes and playing with the neighbors.

Our apartment complex has several Americans living here, so they decided to have a little Halloween party on Sunday afternoon. My kids wanted to go and they wanted to dress up. We heard that costumes were available at the Paca (Guatemalan version of Goodwill), so we hauled ourselves down to the mercado to have a look. I was amazed by the sights and smells of the Saturday market. We found a few costumes, but I was not crazy about them - they seemed really dirty and smelly. We kept walking...until we found a table covered with sheets and bedding. We found a really funny sheet for Parker's costume. It was printed with huge $100 dollar bills on it. He cut a face hole and called himself the Ghost of Money Past. We found a nice clean white sheet for Anna Kate. She was a Greek goddess. Two costumes from two bedsheets for $6 total! Can't beat that deal. (BTW- we washed everything before wearing! Gross!) All the neighbors played Halloween bingo, broom stick relays, apple contests and more. The kids got a small bag of candy, but there was no trick-or-treating. No one seemed very disappointed. We all enjoyed a lovely "fall" (warm & breezy) afternoon with the neighbors.

The ghost of Money Past and our lovely Greek Goddess

The following day, November 1st is the real holiday in Guatemala. It is similar to The Day of the Dead, which is celebrated in many Central & South American countries. Fortunately, it isn't as spooky or gloomy as some other countries (No skulls and skeletons) For weeks and months leading up to November 1st, people begin making kites of all sizes. They make them from bamboo and tissue paper. Some are really elaborate and beautiful. Some are very simple. The idea is to write prayers for the dead on the kites and then fly them to heaven. A little strange, but not too creepy. They spend several days ahead of November 1st, cleaning the cemeteries and decorating the graves with fresh pine needles and flowers. Then they fly the kites in the cemetery on the 1st.

A young women adding flowers to a family grave.

A young boy trying to get his kite in the air.

Several friends from language school decided attend this celebration. So we hired a driver to take us to Santiago Sacatapaqez. Our driver walked us through town to the cemetery on the hill. We walked all through the cemetery and saw the most amazing kites! Some of these kites were 10-12 feet across with long heavy tails and flags on top. It was a little scary to see something so large take off - even scarier if it crashed. The largest kites (50 feet across) do not fly, they simply lean against giant posts in the ground. It was an unbelievable sight to see. We saw several break from the weight of the bamboo frames, but they immediately started work on fixing them and eventually had 5-6 really huge kites on display.

These guys are standing on top of a tomb, setting there kite aflight. 
It's about 6 feet across.

This is one of the larger kites.

This is the bamboo structure in back.
The designs are really amazing - made from tissue paper.

The atmosphere was like being at the state fair - loads of people, tons of food vendors, souvenir vendors etc. Yet this huge "party" takes place in the cemetery. The young boys are literally hopping from grave to grave as they chase kites. It was strange, but beautiful at the same time. After the kite festival, everyone goes home to eat "Fiambre", a traditional Guatemalan dish eaten only on November 1st. To me this looks like it has everything AND the kitchen sink in it. It has several different kinds of meats - chicken, pork, fish, sardines, beef tongue, red sausage, black sausage and other mysteries of the sausage world. It contains hard boiled eggs, baby corn cobs, green beans, beets, olives, and more. It is all soaked in a vinegar based dressing for at least a day. I cannot imagine how this dish came about...perhaps it has something to do with the mourning of dead relatives....or joining them soon. I'm not sure.

This is the bamboo framework for the gigantic kites.

Raising one of the giant kites.

This kite was truly amazing. You can see the scale by the people in the corner of photo.

It's no sacrifice to give up our "Halloween traditions." It's one of the few things I didn't miss about being home. We enjoyed learning and experiencing new holidays and celebrations in our new culture. 

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