Golden winged angels and masked bulls and demons performing traditional folkloric dances, their colonial roots touched by a Guatemalan twist, is one of the various festivities that ignite the main tourist drag in the city of Antigua, Guatemala, on 31st of December.
A pruned version of the dances held in Ciudad Vieja the day after the Día de la Virgen de La Concepción, but enough to shed some light on a tiny part of local culture.
Troupes of giant dolls or gigantes dancing in the streets to the sound of marimba during pueblo pageants, are a rare sight for the foreigner and a popular Guatemalan tradition.
Inside these towering jumbo manikins, tucked away under the folds of cloth with tiny feet poking from below, a mortal stomps and sways and twirls its skirts to the rhythm of the music.
Every so often the melody stops and the figures stand motionless allowing puppeteers to catch their breath and cool down in the harsh sunlight, and onlookers to get close and snap photos.
On the 31st of December in the 5a Avenida Norte, the street with the landmark arch in Antigua, against the colonial backdrop of crumbling ruins and color splashed walls of soft hued reds, blues and yellows, gigantes welcome in the New Year festivities.
Smoke and deafening explosions filled the air for maybe an hour as men ran through a minefield of granadas (translated to grenades) lighting the fireworks and firecrackers tied to them and bombas blasted noisily into the air from inside a heavy, metal tube placed vertically on the ground. Spectators clamped their hands to their ears, flinched, cowered and emitted screams and cheers as rogue fireworks shot off in random directions.
Every 7th of December a parade or convite slowly makes its way through the streets of the former capital Ciudad Vieja just outside Antigua in Guatemala. The following day they celebrate the town’s virgin patron’s day, Día de la Virgen de La Concepción, and after mass in the cathedral everyone crowds into the plaza outside for the noisy display of granadas.
Nowadays, Guatemalans celebrate all Catholic festivals with fireworks, firecrackers and bombas and due to a myriad of religious festivals throughout the year, it’s a rare day when there’s silence in the streets.
On this day, when the sounds subside and the smoke clears but with ringing ears and the sharp scent of gunpowder still in the nostrils, colorful folkloric dances begin. These mainly originated in the Iberian Peninsula and were probably brought over to Guatemala during colonial times picking up their own flavor in local towns and are a mix of theatrical dances and presentations.
The Dance of the 24 Devils, the Dance of the Seven Vices and Seven Virtues and the Dance of the Moors and Christians are three of the most popular.