Christmas in Guatemala
|Avg. temperature: 23°C / 73.4°F||Sun: 7 hrs per day (sunshine) / 11.3 hrs per day (daylight)|
|Rain: 7mm per month||Avg. Humidity: 80%|
With average temperatures of 23°C / 73.4°F in December, Guatemala makes for a great escape from the harsh winters of the Northern hemisphere. Plus, in the heart of the dry season – which runs from November to May – and only 4 rainy days throughout the month, you can bank on blue skies that are unlikely to be dampened.
A Guatemala Christmas
The pleasant climate makes Guatemala a great place to spend Christmas for those not looking for a winter wonderland. Not to mention the many (and lengthy) festive celebrations and traditions that are observed throughout the country over the month, beginning on 7th December and concluding on the 25th.
If you’re planning a Christmas vacation in Guatemala, there’ll be plenty of activities to get involved with and you will be sure to have a fantastically festive time!
What does Guatemala do for Christmas?
Typical of many Latin American countries, Guatemala at Christmas is filled with plenty of traditional celebrations and cultural rituals that span the course of several weeks. For those used to celebrating Christmas over two or three days, it is a break from the norm and an enjoyable one at that.
Let’s take a look at some of the key events celebrated in Guatemala for Christmas.
The Burning of the Devil
Wait… This doesn’t sound very Christmassy?!
At 6:00 PM on the 7th of December, the festivities commence with this very unusual custom in which a homemade model of the devil is burnt on a bonfire. Guatemalan houses (well, gardens) invite friends and family to surround the bonfire and countdown to 6pm sharp when it is lit, and the devil begins to burn.
But, why? The history of the ritual can be traced back to colonial times, but it has evolved over the years to ultimately signify the Virgin overcoming evil; that evil being burnt the day before the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
In addition to the devil, people take items from their house that are not essential, or no longer of use to them, and throw them on the bonfire to watch them burn. It is a cleansing ritual to rid evil from Guatemalan households and to purify them in preparation of the following day’s celebrations.
In some of the bigger cities this tradition is celebrated festival-style and on a larger scale than the household-level of some of the smaller towns and villages. Expect to see costumes and dancing and plenty of performances in trule Latin-American style.
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception
That’s more like it. Celebrated on the 8th of December, this marks a holy day for Catholics and is observed throughout most of Latin America. It is a significant part of the Christmas tradition in Guatemala, where The Virgin Mary’s conception (that’s right – not Jesus’) is celebrated with church services or mass, fireworks, parades and plenty of delicious local foods prepared with love by locals.
Typical in many Christmas cultures, nativity scenes are also tradition in Guatemala and families will build whole sets depicting Joseph and the Virgin Mary and Jesus in biblical settings. You’ll find nativity scenes in churches and private households as they are built in the immediate aftermath of the burning of the Devil, though planning can begin as early as August!
The scenes can often be considered works of art, with huge amounts of creativity and care going into the production and design of these fantastic “Nacimientos”, as they are known locally. Expect bold, bright colours, dyed sawdust in eye-popping shades and plenty of elaborate models and figures made by local craftspeople.
Contests are held throughout the country for the best nativity scene, and the competition is evident in the flamboyant and spectacular displays.
Beginning on the 16th of December and continuing for nine nights until Christmas Eve are the “Pasadas”. Groups of people called pilgrims walk the streets carrying figures and images of Mary and Joseph, and recreate their arrival to Bethlehem and their search for a place to stay. The reenactment through the Pasada processions sees the pilgrims ask homeowners along the way for a place to stay, where they are told time after time “no” before proceeding to the next.
Finally, they are told “yes” by a designated house each night, and are invited inside to give thanks and say prayers before parties filled with food and games and fireworks. This continues until Christmas eve, with each Pasada being held in a different home. These events represent community and love amongst family and friends, and give a true sense of togetherness at this globally celebrated time of year.
Christmas Eve in Guatemala
Christmas dinner is traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve. Local delicacies such as tamales and flavourful Guatemalan punch are served as large groups of families and friends come together on this important day. Games are played and plenty of fun is had – drinking, dancing and other general merriment – before midnight comes and the skies light up.
Go out with a bang
Fireworks at midnight ring in Christmas Day, marking the moment the Baby Jesus was born in Bethlehem before prayers of thanks are said to God, for the great gift of humanity. The streets of Guatemala are quiet in the morning as most people went to bed so late, and the day is typically spent relaxing and eating leftovers – what a perfect day!
Visiting Guatemala at Christmas
If you’re thinking about heading to Guatemala for Christmas, as it’s the height of the dry season and boasts some of the country’s best weather, this also means it is the start of the high tourist season.
While this can mean higher prices on accommodation and travel, it mostly just means you should be prepared and plan your trip well in advance. That way, you still have a chance to bag some great deals! If you leave your bookings too late, as resorts and hotels begin to fill up you’ll be subject to higher price points as the rooms are so in-demand.
Make sure to shop around and look for the best deals, with many resorts in particular offering “early bird” promotions and packages for those getting ahead of the crowds.