The Day of the Dead

Fear not, this month´s editorial is not about an impending zombie apocalypse, although we´d forgive you for thinking that – what with another bizarre human flesh-eating tale coming out of the United States this month involving New York City police officer Gilberto Valle´s gruesome plot to kidnap, cook up and eat hundreds of women. You just couldn´t make this stuff up…

No, fortunately (or hopefully) the only flesh eating that will be carried out on el Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) in Guatemala will be that of cerdo (pork). Lots and lots of cerdo. Indeed,  no Guatemalan national holiday would be complete without a mountain of food prepared especially for the occasion and el Día de los Muertos is no exception. November 1st has its own special dish which is cooked up by families across the country to celebrate the national holiday. Fiambre is a huge salad-like dish that can be made up from over 50 different ingredients, usually including an array of sausages and hams, olives, cheeses, beets, onions, eggs, lettuce, alongside any number of additional ingredients that make up each family´s unique recipe, passed down from generation to generation.

El Día de los Muertos, often called el Día de los Difuntos in Guatemala, is a holiday with Mexican origins that is celebrated across Latin America and around the world in many other countries and cultures. It is a day for friends and families to gather, remember and pray for their loved ones that have passed away. Families flock to the cemeteries in order clean up and adorn the graves of their deceased relatives, honour their ancestors with incense, flowers and prayers and share picnics together. The famous fiambre dish originates from this tradition of family picnics at the cemeteries – traditionally families brought the favourite dishes of their loved-ones to their graves, but as there were so many families bringing different so many different dishes they mixed them all up, resulting in an all-encompassing salad-like dish that would later be called fiambre.

 

But the number one place in Guatemala to celebrate el Día de los Difuntos, is in the town of Santiago Sacatepéquez, just outside of Antigua. Here the cemetery bears witness to a spectacular display of enormous (up to 15 metres in diameter), colourful kites that are made especially for the day and then released into the sky to fly high above the cemetery. The barriletes gigantes are made and flown as a symbolic communication between the living and the dead, attracting the spirits of ancestors to earth on this treasured holiday which reunites family members with the spirits of their loved ones and ancestors.

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