Monday, November 16, 2009

Halloween – Latin American style

NOVEMBER 16, 2009

The Latin American ‘equivalent’ to Halloween is called “Dia de los Muertos” –Day of the Dead; specifically in Guatemala it is called “Día de los Difuntos” - Day of the Deceased. And here, in Guatemala, they certainly have some unique customs and ways of celebrating their Deceased.

There are two places in the whole country which are really famous for elaborate celebrations and it just so happens that both of them are pretty close to Antigua (“La Antigua”). So I decided to go to one of them to check it out personally. After a beautiful 30-40 minute drive from Antigua through a countryside of lush, green rolling hills, I arrived at the Mayan town of Sumpango (Tzumpango is the Mayan name). There, I was met with a swirl of colors, a flurry of activity and quite a lively celebration. The first stop was the bustling cemetery to view the locals, who literally are partying in the cemetery! They bring food, music and all types of intricate decorations, which they use and enjoy around the gravesites of their dearly departed. The cemetery definitely comes alive and gets a vivid facelift this day as it is literally ‘littered’ with hundreds of people; many wearing their finest clothing (especially the hand-woven huipiles – traditional blouses of the women) as well as colorful fresh flowers, new paint jobs on the graves and mausoleums, incense, food smells and all sorts of other delights for your senses. Most people are mingling about, but for people with recent losses, the day can obviously be quite somber.

Here are some cemetery scenes (I highly recommend that you double click on these to enlarge them so that you can see them with better detail):

The second stop was just a 5 minute walk through town to the local football (soccer) field. The tradition is for locals to build massive and extravagant kites, display them for public viewing (oohing and aahing) and fly them – both parts are judged in separate competitions. In some cities/villages, they will fly the kites high above the local cemetery and in others (as is the case in Sumpango), they use an alternate location, like the football field. They view the kites as a symbolic link between the living and the Dead; a way to communicate with the Dead as well as a way to release of the souls of the Dead from agony.

Here are 3 excellent links which explain the festivities, traditions and customs more in detail:

Here is a video which I took from a rooftop; including the cemetery, kites and surrounding land; this should help you to understand the scale of the event:

And here are some of the photos I took of the kites:

Here I am in front of the festival’s tallest kite – 18 meters (54’ high).

Each participating kite has a sign telling how big, how many people worked on it (this group has 21 people), number of years they have participated, etc.

Each kite takes months to construct due to their size and design detail; here is a close-up of the workmanship and materials (the kites consist of pieces of tissue paper which are taped together and affixed to bamboo sticks).

Some of the spectators (including Ana, Bonnie and me).

The “Miss Kite Festival” finalists lineup.

This is a kite that one group is bringing over to the completion to see if it will fly.

The first batch of kites (the smaller ones) are all lined up (on the "runway") and ready to take their turn to try to fly.

Here is YouTube video of one of the kites in flight; just imagine how many people it takes to get them in the air:


  1. Nice blog on halloween. Now halloween ends and its time to prepare for Christmas. Enjoyed your blog very much. Keep up the good work.

  2. Six years have passed since your 2009 trip, but thanks to your photography it's as if we are there now. Thanks for sharing it!