Go Fly a Kite!

By Diana Pastor

If you have not had the opportunity to spend November in Guatemala, you will quickly notice that barriletes, or kites, will be a common site this month. Road side stands sport every conceivable size and design while the skies fill with cometas (comets), as kites are know here. No this isn’t a month of Ben Franklin reenactments (his famous kite flight was in June anyway). No, these kites have a special meaning for Day of the Dead or All Saints Day, celebrated the first of November of each year.

The popularity of these kites can be traced back an old legend, which says that around this time of year evil spirits of the deceased arrived to haunt the cemetery. Not satisfied with the cemetery, these souls began to walk the streets and entered into people’s home- messing with them and getting all up in their business.

The people consulted their local soothsayers who advised that the evil spirits could be scared away by sound of the kite’s paper flapping in the wind (apparently the ghost equivalent of fingernails scratching on a chalkboard). This started the tradition of flying kites in November, which many also say brings people on the ground closer to the deceased soul’s in heaven.  Of course, it was just a matter of time before kite competitions began to see who had the most creative, the largest, the smelliest and most colorful kites (well, maybe not really on the smelly kites- though scratch and sniff kites would really drive those spirits nuts).

San Francisco el Alto and San Cristóbal Totonicapán preserve this traditional by holding kite contests each year on the first and second of November. But the most famous contest takes place in Sumpango, Sacatepéquez, known for its giant models- think 10 feet tall. Built of cane and tissue paper, they often contain cultural images. To get these huge kites into the air (that’s right they fly them!) it takes about a dozen people (who then scatter to avoid it crashing down on them).

But you don’t have to travel to any place special to see kites in November. All of over Guatemala, kids fly kites, often made of plastic bags or cellophane, often with messages for their long lost relatives written on them. While these cheap kites aren’t as glamorous, they are easier to fly (which accrues benefits to observers in the form of less falling debris causing accidental eye loss).

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