Markets and festivities in Guatemala
Guatemala, a small country located in the heart of the Mayan world, is characterized by an exceptional cultural diversity. The last census distinguishes four ethnic communities: Mixed blood 60%, Maya 39.7%, Xinca 0.2%, Garifuna 0.1%.
This crossbreeding is perfectly reflected in the customs and traditions of the country. We see it especially in the markets – colorful and omnipresent – and through the syncretism of religious festivals.
The Catholic festivities are steeped in Mayan culture and pre-Hispanic religions. Villagers dress in their colorful traditional costumes and unite to celebrate the town’s patron saint through rituals, dances, and processions.
November 1st, “Día de Todos los Santos” (Feast of All Saints or All Saints’ Day) is the most significant event of the year. On the other hand, hundreds of families go to cemeteries to flourish the graves of carnations, gladioli and colorful callas. The famous Fiambre is prepared in the kitchens, a cold dish that brings together meats, sausages, vegetables, cheeses and spices.
Certain villages such as Sumpango or Santiago Sacatepéquez organize for the occasion a festival of giant kites. Dozens of colorful kites can be thrown into cemeteries up to 15 meters wide. They represent a communication link between the souls of deceased loved ones and their families on earth, and convey messages of peace.
In Huehuetenango department, the village of Todos Santos Cuchumatán celebrates “el día de Todos los Santos” in a completely different way: the Carrera de las Ánimas, or “Race of the Souls”, brings together the villagers around a horse race. In this tradition, riders ride drunk on horseback wearing the ceremonial costume of Todos Santos Cuchumatanes. To make sure they don’t know their horse – and thus increase the risk of the race – their horses are not given to them until dawn that morning.
There are a significant number of patronal festivals. They are a wonderful opportunity to experience the Guatemalan culture from the inside and to meet its inhabitants. Here is a selection of traditional festivals held throughout the year, in various regions of the country.
|January||Santa María Jesús, Sacatepéquez|
|Rabinal, Baja Verapaz|
|February||San Juan Ostuncalco, Quetzaltenango|
|Santa Eulalia, Huehuetenango|
|April||La Unión, Zacapa|
|San Marcos La Laguna, Sololá|
|Santa Cruz Barillas, Huehuetenango|
|June||San Juan Chamelco, Alta Verapaz|
|San Pedro, Sacatepéquez|
|Santiago Atitlán, Sololá|
|October||San Francisco el Alto, Totonicapán|
|November||Todos Santos, Cuchumatán|
|San Andrés Itzapa, Chimaltenango|
The markets in Guatemala
Sublime mixtures of colors, traditions and flavors… we bet that you will be marked by the beauty of the markets during your trip to Guatemala. Markets punctuate daily life. The women bring the products that will be sold to the village: fruits and vegetables, eggs and cheeses, fabric and crafts. They wear their traditional costume, the patterns of which change depending on the city, region or social status.
One of the most visited markets in the country is the Chichicastenango market in the department of Quiché. The city of 60,000 inhabitants nestled at an altitude of 2,100 meters hosts the market two days a week, Thursday and Sunday. Early in the morning, the shamans are observed burning Copal resin on the steps of Santo Tomás Church. The smell of incense invades the mazes of the market. Flower sellers display their wares in the church square.
We also particularly appreciate the market in the village of San Francisco el Alto near Quetzaltenango or the one at Todos Santos Cuchumatán in the highlands of Huehuetenango.
Whichever region you visit, whatever the time of year, you can always enjoy the markets during your trip to Guatemala. Some are permanent, others are only held on specific days. It can therefore be interesting to adapt your itinerary according to market days, or according to the calendar of traditional festivals.