Of Huevos & Huelgas

mar 2012Those of you feeling that post-Xmas spiritual void will be happy to note that Easter comes oddly early this year and in fact for the truly devout, the whole process has already begun. Lent (or the cuaresma as it’s known around here) is the name for the forty (or 46 in the case of 2012 – we have no idea how any of this works, really) days leading up to Easter. For serious Catholics, this is the time to repent and reflect, and feel somewhat guilty for eating meat on Fridays.

To make up for a distinct lack of easter eggs on the horizon, Guatemala has another tradition to brighten your Lent days – the Huelga de Dolores (the Strike of Sorrows). Started back in 1898 by University of San Carlos students, the Huelga began as a protest against the corrupt Estrada dictatorship and has continued over the years as an annual outcry about how the country is being run.

The most notable features of the Huelga are the hooded university students you’ll see around town, collecting money to fund the Huelga (and, reportedly, social projects). The hoods are part of the tradition, too – a carryover from the days when participation in the Huelga could get you a knock on the door in the middle of the night from people you really didn’t want to be seeing.

All these fun and games culminate in the Desfile de Bufos – a parade through town centers replete with floats, music costumes and plenty of sloganeering. The desfile is at its most colorful in the San Carlos stronghold of Guatemala City (where this month’s cover photo was taken), but regional towns with a San Carlos campus, like Xela, tend to put on their own smaller version, too.

How Guatemalans feel about the Huelga depends on who you talk to – some defend it as one of the few remaining legitimate opportunities for mass protest. Others say that its original intent has been corrupted over the years and that now it’s little more than a street party paid for by the public.

However you feel about it, the Huelga is one of Guatemala’s few unique post-colonial traditions and as such was declared an item of Intangible Cultural Heritage by Guatemala’s Ministry of Culture back in 2010, meaning that most likely it will be around for another 115 years, at least.

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