Christmas Fireworks

By Diana Pastor

What would Christmas and the New Year in Guatemala be without fireworks? According to the Bank of Guatemala, Guatemala imported more than four and a half million dollars worth of stuff that goes boom in the year of our lord 2013. That’s a lot of ordinance. Some fireworks are more likely to disfigure or dismember than others. If you’re curious about trying cheap explosives with your friends or (more likely) with your Guatemalan family, I?ve set up a handy risk scale you can use to judge the likelihood of blowing your hand off.

Perhaps the most popular are the cohetillos —firecrackers, commonly known as “cuetes.” Stick around for long enough and you?ll realize that lighting off firecrackers is an everyday event. They?re pretty versatile —you can use them to celebrate pretty much anything. Catch Guatemalans lighting them off to celebrate weddings, birthdays, religious holidays, football matches and much more. The streets echoed with the crackle of firecrackers when Roxana Baldetti was arrested on fraud and corruption charges last year. Firecrackers are often bought packaged together in sheets (the Spanish name is ametralladora, or machine gun, for their rapidfire crackling.) They’ve brought all kinds of joy and happiness —not least for an unfortunate pattern of injured minors. Rich and poor children both set off firecrackers; sometimes they look in the trash for half-exploded packets. There’s sound and fury, but it doesn’t last: you light the thing and lob it so that it stalls in the air and makes as much noise as possible. Blow your hand off rating: 2

The canchinflines are rarer than they used to be. They were outlawed in 2010, but you can still find them in the markets —a few canny businesspeople have them around back. They’re cigar shaped. Huck it like a pigskin and it’ll make an immense and terrible sound. This horrible noise is exactly the bit that Guatemalans love. Canchinflines are plastic —often bright red, with rarer purple and yellow variants. In the good old days, groups of cautious and self-preserving youngsters would have wars, tossing canchinflines back and forth. This childhood pastime isn’t just foolish and extremely stupid —it’s also really, really fun. Blow your hand off rating: 3

Chiltepitos, tronadoes, tanquecitos, mariposas: These little suckers blow up in a dandelion of multicolored sparks. Some, like the chiltepitos, require you to toss them yourself. Others are mortars —they fire from a tube, propelled to the heavens before they detonate. A good firework for your toddler —they’re a little less dangerous and don’t boom so thunderously that your tyke will develop PTSD. We’re going to lump in the volcanitos (little volcanoes) here too. They’re little cones —light the fuse, and they erupt in a towering cloud of technicolor sparks. Blow your hand off rating: 1

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