Celebrating a holiday for the first time in Guatemala City

I remember learning about Day of the Dead in my sixth grade Spanish class, and thinking that the idea of honoring the dead with expressions of joy and thanks was utterly fascinating and completely new.

guatemala holiday

This past November, I experienced Day of the Dead firsthand as a CCS volunteer in Guatemala City. It was a warm and colorful celebration. Refreshing and exhilarating. And I can’t believe that I was there to experience it!

Witnessing the preparations for the holiday was by far my favorite part of the experience. In the days leading up to the celebration I watched families coming together, from the smallest child to the eldest abuela—grandmother. Together they cleaned, painted, and decorated the cemeteries to honor loved ones lost. Bright flowers lined streets, pine needles littered the narrow paths between mausoleums, and beautiful gifts and offerings were placed delicately on every tomb.

Celebrating Day of the Dead in Guatemala also includes the flying of thousands of kites, each one symbolizing the spirit of a loved one who has passed. The kites are exquisite creations of patchwork and ribbon, and come in every color you can imagine. They can be several stories tall, and before they launch into the sky, the kites are displayed on the soccer field for everyone to see up close.

Volunteering in Guatemala during such a beautiful and meaningful event gave me a deeper connection to the community than I ever could have hoped for. International volunteering is all about exploring a new culture and engaging in cultural exchange. Participating in the celebration and witnessing Guatemalans of all generations embrace death with colors, food, and music was one of those special moments that I know will stay with me forever.

So my advice to you? Volunteer in Guatemala! Better yet, enroll to volunteer in Guatemala during this celebration. Just make sure to begin your program before the celebration kicks off on November 1, 2013. I promise it will be an experience of a lifetime.

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