Festival of Saint Thomas in Chichicastenango (Festival de San Tomás)
From: Thursday, December 20 2007, 7:00 pm
to: Friday, December 21 2007, 6:59 pm
To call the Chichicastenango Festival of Saint Thomas (Festival de San Tomás), a colourful affair would be a big understatement. Each year in December the market town becomes a drawing point for Guatemalan Indians who flock from all areas of the Guatemalan highlands, west of Guatemala City, to partake in a celebration of music, dance and outlandish spectacles.
The highlands boast a plethora of different cultural communities and have over 100 recorded dialects, of which only 20 are officially recognised in any shape or form. The festival is a melting pot of folk music, dance, art, craft and racial culture, unique in Central America.
One of the first notable sights of reaching Chichicastenango is the myriad of colours present in the multiple styles of traditional dress of the local Indians. The women wear the traditional multi-coloured Huipile (blouse) and a skirt, otherwise known as a corte, made up of the most startling of natural dyes. At festival time the added combination of the masked and costumed dancers of the baile de la conquista, a satirising carnival pageant on the conquering of the Americas, transforms "Chichi" into a rainbow of colours that challenges the realms of the imagination.
Now imagine images of the patron saint being paraded through the streets, strong smells of incense pouring from the church, the sounds of firecrackers, rockets, drums and brass bands and your senses are stimulated as never before.
One of the highlights is a maypole tradition intrinsic to the festival. Participants do not start from the ground, however, but from the top of the pole. They are wrapped in rope. On each revolution they unravel themselves bit by bit.
Take time to look around the market and appreciate the beautiful rugs and textiles on sale, not to mention the copious plants, candles, pigs and chickens. The church of Santo Tomás, opposite the main market place, is the main focus of the celebrations. When you enter do not use the side doors - it is regarded as disrespectful. A glimpse of the church interior reveals a mix of Catholic and Amerindian culture, especially evident in the religious celebrations of the festival. In short, reserve a Christmas for Chichicastenango and you will not be disappointed.