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Called Dia de Muertos in Spanish, the Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday celebrated in a number of spots around the world, including Guatemala. It is held on November 1 and 2, in connection with the Catholic holidays, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. The premise behind Day of the Day is to pay respects and remember friends and family members who died. 

While some countries’ Day of the Dead celebrations may seem somber and subdued, Guatemala is home to one of the most elegant and unusual events.  On November 1, the villages of Santiago Sacatepéquez and Sumpango come alive as giant kites are released into the sky. The kites are believed to keep away evil spirits and provide a method of communicating with deceased loved ones. Messages are attached to the tail of each kite. Locals believe the higher the kite rises in the sky, the better the chance their message has of being received by the dearly departed.  

The preparation of these giant Day of the Dead kites begins months in advance, with hundreds of adults and children coming together nightly to finish the delicate creations. At first glance, the kites may appear painted; however, they are painstakingly designed utilizing only fragile tissue paper. Talented artisans bring important Latin American folklore to life in these impressive kites, some of which rival the height of a five-story building. 

The vibrantly colored kites fill the air, while some of the largest ones are too heavy to get off the ground. Ultimately those kites serve as a stunning backdrop for the unique festival. The immensely popular celebration draws a large crowd, from local Guatemalans to international travelers, who all come specifically to witness the majestic display and long-standing cultural tradition. 

If you are traveling in Guatemala this time of year, experiencing the Day of the Dead festival is easy if you are based in Guatemala City. Santiago Sacatepéquez and Sumpango are in the highlands near Guatemala City, approximately a 30-minute drive from the city itself. 

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