In most Latin American countries, Dia de Los Muertos or Day of the Dead is a solemn occasion to remember those who have passed on. However, in Guatemala, it’s a time for high spirits and celebrations.
All Saints Day in Guatemala is a celebration of the lives of the saints and of their successes. It is a day to remember those who have passed, to give thanks for their lives, and to celebrate the continuation of their legacy. It is a day to celebrate all those who have shown you kindness, who have loved you and cared for you, and who have gone before you. We believe that in order to honor these individuals, we must act with kindness and love every day. We must set aside time for friends and family, value what we have and live life to the fullest. In this way, we can honor all those who have come before us and show gratitude for those who are still here with us now.
The Meaning of All Saints Day or Dia de Todos Los Santos Celebration in Guatemala
All Saints Day is dedicated to remembering the dead on the first day of November. On November 1st and November 2nd, All Souls Day (Dia de Los Fieles Difuntos), people bring offerings like flowers and food to the graves. Día de Todos los Santos or All Saint's Day is a very special and sacred holiday in Guatemala. It’s a day to celebrate and remember loved ones who have passed away. In Guatemala, families traditionally visit cemeteries and reunite at the graves of their loved ones. They tend to the graves, taking time to decorate them with beautiful flowers, palms, pine needles and wreaths. Families will also share a meal together in the cemetery — typically it’s the favorite meal of their loved one. November 1st is also the only day of the year that the traditional Guatemalan dish fiambre [fee-om-brey] is served. Fiambre is a salad that is served cold and it can be made up of over 50 ingredients. (If you ever have the opportunity to try fiambre, we encourage you to give it a shot!)
November also marks the appearance of winds that are characteristic of the new season. These winds create perfect conditions for kite flying. Indigenous people have used kites to communicate and unite with their deceased loved ones, a tradition dating back more than 3,000 years. According to the elders, the impact of the wind against the kites also takes away bad spirits. If you visit Guatemala near Día de Todos los Santos, you will see kites for sale on almost every street corner, children flying kites, and people making kites.
The Meaning Behind Flying Kites on All Saints Day
To mark the special celebration, on November 1st of every year, the people of both Santiago Sacatepéquez, and Sumpango, Guatemala, put together giant kites to fly during the All Saints Day Kite Festival. The vibrantly colored designs on the kites, made of cloth and paper with bamboo frames, depict religious or folkloric themes and they are flown in the nearby Sacatepéquez cemetery to honor the dead. The locals in this small municipality dress up in colorful clothing and head to the cemetery to spend the day cleaning up the graves and decorating them with flowers while they have picnics right next to their departed family members.
The kites that you see this day are masterpieces built by the local communities throughout the year. One of the most stunning displays of this tradition can be seen in the towns of Sumpango and Santiago. There, people spend months and sometimes all year creating larger-than-life barriletes gigantes (giant kites). These kites can be several stories tall. Many are circular but some are more elaborate, taking the shape of a peacock, owl, or butterfly. They are all created from tissue paper or rice paper and bamboo so that, even though they are large, they can be flown when the wind permits. Often, the kites display important social messages regarding the environment, women’s rights, and protecting children.
Traditionally, the building of the kites takes 40 days, the first day marked by the village’s unmarried men heading out to the coast at 4:00 am to laboriously collect bamboo for the kite frames. Every part of the kite is made using nature’s bounty; the glue is a mixture of yucca flower, lemon peel, and water, ropes are made of the maguey plant, and the tails are made from woven cloth.
The kites flown in Sumpango are an expression of collective art created by members of the community. The design of each kite, and all of the details found within, has meaning. The kites are pieces of art that represent a sense of identity. This ritual is so popular in Guatemala that it has been elevated to an art form, where people painstakingly design intricate patterns for their kites. This festival has become so popular that thousands of tourist from around the world visit Guatemala just to personally experience the majestic size of this beautiful kites.
All Saints Day Celebration - Kite Festival
In Sumpango, the local people also compete to see who has the most beautiful kite and which kite flies the longest. Called El Festival de Barriletes Gigantes, this special day in Sumpango is one of the most visited events in this region of Guatemala. The vibrant colors and immensity of the kites, paired with the beautiful tradition of honoring deceased loved ones, draws people from all over the world.
Every culture, community, and individual has their own way of paying respect to the deceased. In some Western societies, it is a somber affair marked by mourning. But in Guatemala, Día de Todos los Santos is a festive, joyous occasion rooted in tradition. If you are visiting Guatemala during this time, the celebrations in Sumpango and Santiago are a must-see. Only by visiting in-person can you truly appreciate the incredible detail found in these elaborate kites and the meaning behind this special holiday.
Blending Mayan & Spanish Religious Beliefs
Día de Todos Los Santos is a festive occasion rooted in tradition in Guatemala. Historians believe it was initially a Mayan celebration of death and their ancestors. In Mayan culture, you will find symbols about the worship of death. This is because they believed the cosmic order depended on the balance between life and death. With the arrival of the Spanish, the festivity also embodied Christian elements. It occurs on November 1st, corresponding to the Christian day of All Saints or Día de Todos Los Santos. Although you might associate Mexico with the Day of the Dead, many Latin American countries celebrate Día De Los Muertos with their unique rituals.
In Guteamala, this celebration is meant to honor all the saints that have ever lived. The day is usually observed by a Mass and prayers for the deceased. In most communities in Guatemala, you'll find children flying kites. Kite flying is a way for children to offer their prayers for their dead relatives. People also fly kites on All Saints day because it is believed that the sky is like a map and the kites help to show where the souls of the deceased are. In Guatemala, an ancient tradition called El Viaje del Escorpión (Scorpion Pilgrimage) is practiced. This tradition involves writing an oath for the person you are praying for on a piece of paper, which is then folded into a scorpion shape and attached to a kite string. The kite is then flown over hills, valleys and cemeteries. Today, All Saints Day in Guatemala is celebrated with great enthusiasm and joy.
All Saints Day or Dia de Todos Los Santos Celebration
There are so many traditions attached to this spirit-filled celebration. From enjoying traditional Guatemalan food to watching gigantic kites flying in the air, All Saints’ Day is a memorable holiday.
Here's a free printable for you to enjoy with your family. The download is free at checkout.
Stand out in these beautiful handmade earrings inspired by colorful textiles and Maya traditions of Guatemala!
Our collection of handmade BARRILETES (kites) in partnership with Mandarina by Dre, honors the spirit of our Guatemalan traditions and the celebration of life.
♡ Learn more about Guatemalan textiles, and follow our journey ethically sourced products on Instagram @TesorosMaya
♡ You can also like and follow us on Facebook to watch our LIVE Events!
Leave a comment