I had the good fortune to visit Guatemala in early 2009, an unusual journey since I’d written about the political struggles in Guatemala in my novel Endless Chain, the second book of my Shenandoah Album series, but had never visited the country. Although only the back story took place in Guatemala, I found it strange to write about a place I’d never seen and experienced. So when our church organized a social justice delegation to be based in Antigua, with excursions into the Mayan Highlands, I gladly signed on. You can read about that trip here and here, or search under my “travel” category for even more.
Recently when a second trip was planned, I had to say no, since I had promised to help out after the birth of our new grandchild. But my husband went again, camera in hand. And this time, the group was there during the Day of the Dead, November 1st. They took part in the wonderful kite flying festival in the village of Sumpango, and came back with lots of photos. (To see more plus my original Guatemala album, you can access here if you’re registered at Facebook.)
If you read Endless Chain, you’ll remember a scene in which Sam and Elisa fly a kite to send messages to their departed loved ones. Elisa tells Sam, “Some say the dead know the color of their family’s kites and slide down the string to be with them. Others tie messages to the tails, to tell departed family members what has happened during that year and whether they are well. most of all they ask for favors and blessings, because their loved ones are nearer to God than they are.”
What a wonderful tradition this is. A day to remember those who have passed before us, a day to be with family and to express gratitude to those who loved us. Although my husband said their group was warned this was a somber day, he found it anything but. Families picnicked on graves, children played, vendors sold roasted corn and kites, and the “barriletes” on display? Well, even in photos, they are amazing. For an even closer look, here’s a video of the tradition I found at You Tube.
My husband and friends sent their own messages. When he showed me the photos and talked about the experience, I found myself wondering who might be waiting to hear from me. My mother certainly, at the head of the line. My grandmothers, one I never knew, one who lived to proudly read my first novels. A friend whose death at age twelve still haunts me.
I love this ritual. I love it so much in fact that next year, I think I’ll buy my own kite and fly it in remembrance. But how special it must be in the Mayan villages where this tradition continues to be practiced, to be surrounded by family and friends, some of whom might even be remembering the very same loved ones that you are.