Guatemala offers traditions formed over the centuries, from the Mayan legacy, the culture of its ancestors in the pre-Hispanic world, followed by the traditions of the colonial era, with great influence of Catholicism, and the new ones of the contemporary period. Traditions in Guatemala are a fusion of elements and beliefs of Arab, Spanish and Mayan origin.
HOLY WEEK – SEMANA SANTA AND THE PROCESSIONS
The Spanish tradition of Semana Santa (Holy Week) arrived with the Spaniards to Guatemala in 1524. Almost 500 years later, Guatemala holds one of the most elaborate celebrations in the world. With grand processions, lavish floats and intricately designed alfombras (“carpets”), Antigua, Guatemala hosts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year who yearn to be a part of the religious and cultural festivities–a mix of Spanish tradition and indigenous cultural beliefs.
Holy Week is the week leading up to Easter Sunday, commemorating the passion, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For the people of Guatemala, there is no celebration more anticipated than Semana Santa. Although Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday, religious celebrations actually begin up to a month in advance starting with the first day of Lent–Ash Wednesday.
During Holy Week, the Catholic devotees obey various acts, such as processions, staging the drama of Death and Passion of Christ, on streets ornamented with rugs, boots dressed in cones and courtship move to the rhythm of funeral marches.
The Catholic fervour that currently exists in Guatemala has almost magical and mystical dyes due to the syncretism between the Mayan religion and the Catholic doctrine; it combines elements dating from the old American cultures and from Catholicism imposed by the Spanish in the Colonial era.
The Posadas in Guatemala
These are popular celebrations that commemorate the wandering of Saint Joseph with the Virgin Mary next to give birth to the baby Jesus. It was initiated by Hermano Pedro de San José de Betancourt (1626-1667) in Santiago de Guatemala (Antigua Guatemala).
The traditional Christmas Posadas are celebrated in Guatemala from December 16th to the 24th. In the old parts of the city and in the towns small processions accompanied by groups of people carrying coloured paper lanterns walk the streets as soon as the night falls. Children and teenagers carry images of Joseph and Mary on a wooden float. Singing and prayers are accompanied by the Tucutícuto of the ayotl (a pre-Columbian percussion instrument made of a turtle’s shell which is taped on its convex side with a piece of wood) along with other autochthonous instruments including whistles and chinchines (indigenous maracas made from the fruit of the morro tree), filling the night air with music and song, as people with enthusiasm open the doors of their homes to let Joseph and Mary in and see the Birth of Jesus.
The December celebrations start off with the traditional Quema del Diablo (The Burning of the Devil) on December 7th, which is done with the purpose of sanctifying and purifying the way before the celebration of the day of the Virgen de Concepcion on the 8th.
EL PALO VOLADOR
A part of Guatemala's ancient Mayan cultural heritage, the traditional Mayan pole flyer dancing—known in Spanish as "El Baile del Palo Volador" is carried out in demand of rain and fertility of the soils. Before cutting the tree, from which comes the axis or pole around which the dancers turn, certain preparatory rituals are observed, among which abstinence, fasting and libations.
The stunning show is performed by a pair of flyers dressed in vivid traditional costumes bedecked with feathers and Masks that represent birds, chalchigüis, coins and bells with sound ayacastles like Chinchines or maracas. At the top of the pole is placed a revolving frame, whose corners are detached four ropes that serve to tie, from the feet to the dancers, who are thrown into the void and descend, circling around the pole, The dancers spin around a 30 m high wooden pole hanging from ropes and strike various poses mid-air as the ropes gradually lower them to the ground.
The history of this dance is found in the sacred Book of the Kichés, the Popol Vuh in which the legend of the brothers, Jun Batz and Jun Ch'owen, who tried to kill their other two brothers the twins Hunahpú and Ixbalanque. As they failed in their attempt, of punishment were converted into apes.
Dancers and participants practice the ritual of "sacred fire" in which they ask nature to help them choose the tree for the ceremony. After cutting it, the tree is moved by hundreds of men to the place of the ceremony. In the ritual it is to follow the legend of the Popol Vuh which documents that the pole is It is loaded by approximately 400 men. This ritual dance is performed during the major religious festivals celebrating patron saints, in particular in Quiché department it is observed on August 15 which is the Day of Assumption. In Chichicastenango, it takes place around the feast of Saint Tomas between December 13 and 21. Finally, you can also find it in Cubulco in Baja Verapaz during the feast of Saint Santiago on July 26.
According to the cosmogony of the indigenous kaqchiqueles the kites represent a link of communication between the Dead (the Saints) and the living.
For the inhabitants of Sumpango and Santiago, Sacatepéquez the first of November All Saints Day, has little relation with the saints of the Catholic Church and focuses almost entirely on the dead of the underworld, in their ancestors.
It is a day of a traditional ritual that starts at the sunrise of November 1st; In which families spread flowers in the house and put bouquets in the windows, with the desire to guide the dead “Animas” the way home and with that let them know that they are still welcome and have not forgotten.
Currently, the Kites act as true messengers because many of these are placed a message or telegram that is on the tail of a pita, which with each milestone goes up to heaven.
The giant kites are a mixture of art, tradition and colour, through which the locals transmit messages of unity, love, faith, respect for the customs and Mother Earth and, in the year 2000, identification with the postulates of the Culture of Peace promoted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). In 2009, to preserve and value this tradition, the Ministry of Culture and Sports signed a three-year cooperation agreement with the Association of Santiaguense for Cultural Development.
During the "Day of the Dead" kites of different sizes are presented, and among the largest are those ranging from 5.5 to 20 meters in length. Elaborating one of these works involves a task of six hours a day and even whole days (during the night and at dawn) during the 5 months preceding November 1.
QUEMA DEL TORITO
Guatemalan tradition that consists of a dance of Spanish origin that is linked to the issue of livestock and their foremen.
It is considered the representation of the devil in hunting of the heretics, this with the purpose of giving them the deserved punishment.
It consists of a suit in the form of a bull that carries fireworks and is carried by a person and you can remove the suit until the fireworks are turned off.The burning of the Torito originated when the Spaniards, after the conquest, introduced the pyrotechnic games for religious celebrations.
This tradition can be seen in many parts of the country and is celebrated by different Guatemalan cultures.
El Torito consists of a frame of wire or wood covered with rockets, Canchinflines and stars.
For the celebration, this frame is placed on the shoulders of a man, then the pyrotechnical games are ignited; And the Torito is transported among the people who fight and run to avoid being reached.
QUEMA DEL DIABLO (Burning of the Devil)
Across the country on December 7, Guatemalans burn The Devil. The week prior market stalls fill with papier–mâché devils for families who want to personally show the devil his due.
Burn the Devil, Make Way for Mary
The tradition of burning the devil began in colonial times. In anticipation of the feast of the Immaculate Conception, the patron of Guatemala City, those who could afford it adorned the fronts of their houses with lanterns. Eventually, the poor who could not afford such lanterns began gathering their garbage and would burn all of the year's rubbish in front of their houses. Over time it was formalized and in addition to individual piles of garbage, communities started to burn The Devil to clear the way for Mary's feast.
The idea is to burn all of the bad from the previous year and to start anew from the ashes. In cities throughout the country The Devil is burned at the stroke of six. In Ciudad Vieja, the first former capital of the country, a devil three stories tall is constructed and burned in the city square.
This tradition was declared as Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Nation, by the Ministry of Culture and Sports through a Government Agreement.