traditions

One of the most outstanding traditions that represent Guatemalan culture are the All-Saints-Day, the ‘Semana Santa’ Easter celebrations which have been declared ‘Intangible Cultural Patrimony’ by the UNESCO, the ´Palo Volador’ in Chichicastenango and the election of the Maya princess ‘Rabin Ajau’ in Cobán. In addition to these special events every village celebrates the day of their Patron Saint, where cultural activities such as folkloric dances, processions, and presentation of crafts take place, and where local foods that are offered for that day can be tried.

DIA DE TODOS SANTOS
This event is celebrated on November 1st in a very peculiar way in three towns. In Todos Santos the indigenous organize a horse race besides their traditional folkloristic dances. In Sumpango and Santiago Sacatepéquez, two villages that are situated less than half an hour from Antigua, local people organize the festival of giant kites. The villagers build enormous kites and gather in the cemetery to fly them, as a way to communicate with the spirits of the dead. Some kites have written messages for the deceased. In all of Guatemala it is tradition on that day to visit the cemetery, clean and decorate the tombs and bring food to eat as a way of sharing with the deceased.

MAXIMON or SAN SIMON
"Infidel" saint of the Mayan, he is mostly worshiped in Santiago Atitlan, San Andres Itzapa and Zunil. According to the legend, ‘Maximón’ incorporates the ‘Spirit of the World’. Unlike Catholic Saints he is more like a good ‘buddy’ to whom you can come with your problems and offerings consisting of alcohol and tobacco. People from the villages visit Maximón to ask for a favor and it is possible to observe authentic shamanic ceremonies conducted by an ‘Aj Kij’ or ‘day keeper’, a leader of the community knowledgeable in the sacred Maya Tzolk’in calendar.

MAYA CEREMONY
Traditional Maya and shamanic ceremonies can be observed in different places in Guatemala – in Chichicastenango, in San Andres Itzapa, and in Zunil. Shamans or ‘Aj Kij’, day keepers, make a circle from natural materials. They use tree bark, raisin, candles of different colors, sugar and chocolate as an offering and a way to communicate with the lords of the days and the spirits. A fire is lit and the Aj Kij can read from the flames the will of the gods.

PALO VOLADOR
This event takes place from December 18th to the 21st in Chichicastenango.
A procession of the most important confraternities of the village marches through town escorted by the sound of drums and firecrackers while some of the young people throw themselves from the top of a pole, tied only with a cord and "fly" while it unrolls. On this day many traditional dances are presented, where the dances dress in shiny and elaborately decorated costumes wearing locally handcrafted wooden masks.

RABIN AJAU
This event takes place during the last week of July in Coban, Alta Verapaz. This is the most important indigenous festival; it is the election of the queen of the indigenous who will become princess of Tesulutan for one year. This festivity is very colorful due to the folkloric dances and all the typical costumes as indigenous people from all Guatemala gather to represent their local dresses and traditions.

SEMANA SANTA
In Guatemala, Easter week is probably the most important event of the year. It is celebrated with great enthusiasm in the whole country and more particularly in Antigua. Especially during the night of Thursday to Friday superb carpets made out of colored sawdust or flowers are elaborated. Starting early Friday morning a huge processions leave the different churches and pass through the town destroying on their way these incredible works of art.

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