Happy Birthday, Mom! (From ALL of Guatemala)

Haloo, Mom!

So, it’s November 1st—a big day in Guatemala… your birthday!! I was a little surprised to get down here and discover that Guatemalans are sooo into celebrating your special day, and then, I was like, why? You’re quirky, kind, funny, beautiful—why wouldn’t they want to fête you in some major way?

Of course, you’re not actually here to enjoy the big bash being thrown in your honor : (  : (  : (, so I thought I’d provide a run-down of all that’s planned…

To start, your party’s going to take place in a cemetery. I know that sounds a little macabre, but that’s because you’re picturing spooky, cobwebby cemeteries in the States. Yeah, those are buzzkills. Forget those. Cemeteries here are the total opposite: They’re cheery and welcoming–kind of like Candyland, minus the candy and with dead people. But in a good way.

Chichi cemetery.1Above-ground graves are often ornately designed and come in pleasant shades of mint green, tangerine, bright yellow, and rose. Some tombs, particularly older ones, are actually grand, Roman-style mausoleums, while other ground plots are more basic, commemorated with simple markers, like painted cement or wooden crosses. Often, graves are adorned with big bouquets of fresh flowers, replenished regularly by loved ones. Cemeteries in Guatemala are good spots to spend an afternoon–or, I guess, an eternity.

pana cemetery.1Now, I bet you’re wondering who’s coming to your party—besides moi, of course—and the answer is, well, everyone! You are seriously loved down here. I mean, hello? The date of your birth is a national holiday! I get off from work because of you.

kite fest.1Friends, families, and neighbors will all be in attendance and don’t think for one second that anyone is coming empty-handed. Nope, everyone is bringing a kite to the cemetery to fly in your honor! While they’re at it, a few folks might fly kites to honor their ancestors, as well–to each his or her own, I suppose. Some towns, like Sumpango and Santiago Sacatepéquez (both just outside of Antigua), will actually have giant kites reaching up to 65 feet across! These won’t ever leave the ground–they’re much too big to fly–but they will be raised up over the crowd so everyone can see their elaborate designs. It’s going to be one incredible spectacle—way better than the fireworks Dad gets on his July 4th birthday (but don’t tell him that).

kite fest.4

Kite fest.3I suspect you’d like to know how your birthday cake factors into all of this, and here, I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint. Instead of the spiced chocolate torte that I requested, you will be fêted with fiambre, a cold salad comprising dozens of ingredients including cured meats, pickled vegetables, and cheese. I mentioned that you’re a vegetarian, but Guatemala really held its ground on this one. Apparently, this is what’s always served at your November 1st bash, and tradition is tradition. I think you’re just going to have to plaster a smile on your face and say thanks. It’s the thought that counts, right?

Fiambre Familiar 040

So, that’s pretty much it, though I’d say that’s an awful lot. You have a whole country visiting cemeteries, flying kites, and eating pickled meat in your honor. Granted, that’s all a tad unusual, but at least it’s one party no one will forget.

Oh, one more thing! I noticed on the invites, where it said “Party For,” instead of your name, someone had put “Día de los Muertos,” which means “Day of the Dead.” Ignore that. That was a typo. This party’s for you.

Wish you were here in Guatemala to celebrate! When all is said and done, I’ll be sure to post some photos of your shindig. In the meantime, have a very HAPPY BIRTHDAY!! Love you and miss you mucho.



Photo credits: (top) Bon Appetit; (bottom) Leonel Mijangos

7 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, Mom! (From ALL of Guatemala)

  1. Very clever post, Melissa! Your writing always impresses me, and the photos are fantastic, too. I would love to see those colorful huge kites in person. Can you arrange for Guatemala to throw a little shindig on July 15th for my birthday? Well done!

      1. Believe it or not, but I am just seeing this now…but that is too funny. We are definitely going to have to arrange a shindig in some fabulous locale to celebrate!

        Merry Christmas to you and Shon. We hope there is better cuisine involved than on Day of the Dead and less fireworks than on New Year’s Eve. Take care!

  2. You made your Mother happy to know that she had a very special day in Guatemala. We miss you very much. Sorry I missed your phone call. Love you, Grandmom.

  3. Oh My!!!!!

    I wish I was down there to celebrate : ). It must be some kind of party and I am truly honored. Please tell everyone, and I mean everyone thank you for their kind wishes ; ).

    The kites are incredible, by the way so is the salad but I have to admit the cake would be hard to turn down.

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Now I don’t feel so bad about turning another year older with that kind of celebration. : }

    I love you so much and miss you. Please have some salad and cake for me. Don’t forget to tell the folks down there thank you.

    Un abrazo fuerte !!!! Shon taught me that.

    All my love to your gang and you are sorely missed everyday.


    1. Wish you were down here, too! The kites really will be neat; I’m heading to Sumpango to see the giant ones soon. I’m not quite sure how happy you’d be with the pickled salad–best to find yourself that big chocolate cake, instead. Yummm…. Hope you have a great day!!! Will Skype you in a few. A big, big hug!!! And Happy Birthday!! : ) Melissa

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