Every November 1st, the people of Santiago Sacatepéquez , Guatemala celebrate the Day of the Dead by flying giant colorful kites, during the All Saints Day Kite Festival.
Known as “barilletas gigantes” in Spanish, the giant kites of Santiago Sacatepéquez are masterpieces that take great skill and patience to complete. Months before the Kite Festival, teams of people begin work on the colorful kites that will bring them great honor and the respect of their peers, on the big day. A giant kite is made of cloth and paper tied to a bamboo frame, and features a colorful design, usually with a religious or folkloric theme. In recent years, designs have been hinting at the ever-growing corruption of the Guatemala government.
On the day of the festival, people take their homemade kites to the nearby Sacatepéquez cemetery, to honor the departed. The 3,000-year-old tradition of flying colorful kites on the Day of the Dead derived from various religious practices, including Christianity, and locals believe it’s a way to communicate with the dead. They dress up in colorful clothes, clean-up the graves of their loved ones, cover them with colorful flower petals and even have picnics right there in the cemetery. It’s a happy celebration where people have fun and honor those who are no longer with them.
The giant kites are brought to the cemetery in the morning, but they don’t take to the skies until dusk, when people have finished tending to the graves and enjoyed a good meal. You will see locals flying their own small kites, but the truly impressive ones, with diameters ranging between 24 and 30 meters (with some even as big as 36 meters) only go up at dusk. It’s a glorious spectacle seeing groups of locals struggling to get their masterpieces airborne, but it’s only when they succeed, and the colorful kites head for the great blue sky that the show is complete. The strong autumn winds shred through the paper easily, but the brief moments of seeing such a beautiful thing fly is totally worth it.
The Kite Festival of Santiago Sacatepéquez is about honoring the dead and communicating with them, but locals also compete to see who has the most beautiful kite and which of them flies the most. There are prizes for best design, but for the winners, the cheers and admiration of the crowd are rewarding enough.