SANTIAGO SACATEPEQUEZ, Guatemala (Reuters) – Thousands gathered in Central Guatemala on Friday to watch giant kites take flight, a local tradition intended to reconnect the living and the deceased, as Day of the Dead celebrations kicked off throughout the region.
Day of the Dead, a holiday that marries Catholic rituals and pre-Hispanic beliefs, is celebrated throughout Latin America on the first two days of November.
The holiday’s reach is wide, extending to Catholic communities as far away as the Philippines, and it takes a different form in each geography.
In Mexico, families pack cemeteries to adorn graves with marigolds and candles, also erecting altars in their homes to welcome the dead. Women and men alike smear their faces with white paint and ring their eyes in black, channeling the iconic “Catrinas,” or elegant skulls.
One of the most spirited celebrations in the region takes place in the Guatemalan municipality of Santiago, where Mayan tradition looms large. Locals believe the colorful kites help guide the souls of their loved ones to heaven.
Olga Marina Tun Yocute, crowned the queen of this year’s festival, takes pride in participating in a tradition that dates back to the late 1800s.
“The grandfathers and the grandmothers communicate through the kites,” she said, flanked by two other young women honored at the festival, all donning embroidered clothing and elaborate headdresses.
While families can be found flying smaller kites throughout the day, the festival revolves around an array of gigantic circular kites, adorned with colorful local designs and topped by flags that flutter in the breeze.
As the afternoon wore on, the crowd cheered and dozens of young men scrambled to take their places and prepare to send the kites heavenward.
“It’s a stupendous thing,” said Monica Paiz, a French tourist.