AAGS Worldwide Movers

Day of the Dead in a Guatemalan Graveyard 0

By Dawnelle Salant

If you're in Guatemala, Nov. 1 is the best time to visit Santiago Sacatepequez. Locals in traditional bright clothing as well as foreigners clad in shorts and tank tops flock to this small village near the ancient capital of Antigua to observe All Saints Day, known here as Day of the Dead. And it's not the streets, halls, or restaurants that they're heading to--it's the graveyard.

Though it might sound morbid, the festival is actually a colorful and lively celebration for which locals build extravagant kites (known in Spanish as barriletes gigantes) and fly them high above the cemeteries as a symbolic link between the living and the dead. At last year's festival I saw men determinedly strapping together long poles to form the base of a brightly-colored kite. The poles must have been three times my height! Constructed simply out of tissue paper and bamboo, the kites are amazingly durable. When I shaded my eyes and looked upwards, I saw one of the biggest--with a diameter of 12 feet--sailing effortlessly in the wind, its circular design of purple, yellow, orange, and red standing out against the blue sky.

The graves themselves are made astonishingly beautiful too. Painted blue, pink, or even green, on Day of the Dead they're decorated with flowers like lilies, chrysanthemums, and flor de muerto (dead man's flower), a strong smelling member of the marigold family. Loose petals are carefully arranged to form soft carpets.

And what would a celebration be without food? Fiambre, the traditional dish of the festival, is made only once a year. Although recipes vary from family to family and generation to generation, fiambre is customarily a mix of cheese, meat, and vegetables cured in vinegar. It's served cold and eaten for lunch, and around noon the lids come off the coolers. Sitting near and often directly on the graves, several different families offered to share their fiambre with us. It looked much like a cold stewed soup of eggs, celery, beets, ham, and even asparagus. I don't think I'll be making fiambre a regular part of my diet, but you can't celebrate Day of the Dead without at least trying a bite.

Dawnelle Salant
For International Living

Join our Guatemala Expat Forum

Visit our Guatemala Forum and talk with other expats who can offer you insight and tips about living in Guatemala.

Read Next

5 Important Tips about Healthcare for Expats in Guatemala

Expats in Guatemala have a variety of healthcare options available to them. Understanding what is available is a critical part of preparing to move there. Advice about proximity of care and prescription medications in Guatemala is also provided by expats living there.

Moving to Guatemala: 7 Things to Know Before You Move to Guatemala

Expats that move to Guatemala do so to enjoy a beautiful country where the cost of living can be dramatically different than the rest of the world. However, it's important to understand all of the details of living in Guatemala before moving there.

Expat Guatemala: The 5 Best Places to Live in Guatemala

Expats share their favorite places to live in Guatemala - from Antigua to Lake Atitlan to Xela and more.

5 Great Places to Retire in Central America

Central America is an increasingly popular retirement destination. Retirees love it's proximity to the United States, lower cost of living, beautiful cities, amazing beaches, healthy lifestyle and friendly people.

10 Tips for Living in Guatemala

Expats in Guatemala offers tips about living in Guatemala. They discuss where to live in Guatemala, the locals and their culture, crime problems, cost of living and more.

About the Author

AS International LivingInternational Living - the monthly newsletter detailing the best places in the world to live, retire, travel and invest overseas.

AGS Worldwide Movers

Write a Comment about this Article

Sign In to post a comment.

First Published: Oct 23, 2004

Join Today (free)

Join Expat Exchange to meet expats in your area or get advice before your move. It's FREE and takes 1 minute!

Copyright 1997-2018 Burlingame Interactive, Inc.

Privacy Policy Legal