Monday, January 4, 2010

Processions and Parades

JANUARY 31, 2010

Guatemala is known for its Patron Saint fairs (every town has at least one patron saint and likewise an annual festival to celebrate it). And each of the churches also have their own unique celebrations throughout the year. During these festivities, there are feasts of all sorts, processions where they parade the Saint around town, traditional dances (with costumes, of course) and an assorted array of other colorful activities. The Guatemalan version is an interesting mix since each town will usually include some specifically local element. Furthermore, these fiestas often include somewhat of a melding of original Spanish influences incorporated with Mayan traditions as well.

This procession I saw in Antigua was very somber; I perched myself on top of a rooftop restaurant terrace to effectively show the scale of the event:

The participants actually have to pay the church to enable them to share in the honor of carrying the 5-6 ton float for one block. About 80 people carry it at a time. And after each block they will switch to a different crew who will take over for the next block.

Here it is on the next block after they switched; in this block it is now all men carrying it.

It keeps moving along like this all over town for a duration of perhaps 8-10 hours. Here it is later that night; passing by the Central Park:

Here is a short video of it that night in the very crowded park:


This Patron Saint fair which I attended in a neighboring town (Ciudad Vieja) was a total party. The festival goes on for a week and they have one of the more elaborate celebrations in the country with parades, floats, processions, traditional food, fireworks and folkloric dances which include ‘dramas’ (little skits). Here is a video overview of the scene:

Most dancers/actors are men, but they play the part of women as well. Majority of the performances is “The Dance of the Devils and Death.” As I mentioned in a previous blog, Devils are REALLY big here! These performances are about 3 hours long and they will do them 3 times this day as well as once/day for the rest of the week. As you can see, this festival featured some interesting versions of ‘Devils’; they had black faces, yet blond hair; devil outfits, yet wings (like angels have). Talk about having an identity complex!

The Devils begin their skit; they start the Devil Dance. This video is a close-up of two devils dancing; notice their fangs!

In this video, one of the Devil's maidens is stating her case to the King Devil:

And there are many other skits besides the devils... warriors, pirates, cowboys... even Rastafarians!

Here is a video of a skit/dance of some kids dressed as cowboys, accompanied by the Marimba, the national instrument of Guatemala:


Many times, in honor of the processions, church members will create elaborate and beautiful artistic “carpets” made of dyed sawdust, pine needles, flowers and other things like little statues, fruits and vegetables. These carpets adorn the processions' path. Yes, people spend hours constructing these intricate designs, only to have them destroyed as the processions trample all over them! These carpets (alfombras) were part of a procession welcoming priests from many Latin American countries during their annual conference at Antigua’s San Francisco church:

Here is a close-up to show the detail of one with sawdust:

And here is one of flowers and pine needles:


This annual roving parade is unique to one of Antigua's churches, La Merced. The "Big Heads" and "Giants" roam the streets of the city for most of the day, stopping in some of the more public places (churchyards, parks, etc.). Their arrival is announced via a blast of some explosive firecrackers (extremely common down here) and then they proceed to dance around for a few songs until they move onto to the next place. This celebration is not religious in nature, rather its purpose is to celebrate the different cultures which exist in the world - notice that some of the paper mache heads are of differerent races. And the giants represent the different kings from different continents.


  1. So interesting, Julie! I'm glad you're enjoying the culture.
    hugs & kisses,

  2. Very cool! Love the photos and such. BTW, I believe there are wings on the devils to represent lucifer, the fallen angel in the bible. Hope you are well!
    Sharon Y.