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Aug 2014 back issue
The Patron Saint Guatemala
by Michal Fattal
Chichicastenango is a highland town in Guatemala known for its traditional K'iche' Maya culture and for its big, colorful famous markets. Every year at the end of December the town becomes even more attractive, when it celebrates an annual festival for its patron saint, Santo Tomás, in one of the loudest, most colorful and uninhibited festivals in Guatemala, a total assault on all senses. The holiday combines customs of the Maya tradition together with Catholic Christianity.  In the main town's plaza, wooden poles of 30 meters high are raised with two ropes hanging from them and pole dancers climb to the top, swoop down on the end of the rope, spinning in circles and do the dance of the Palo Volador (flying pole). All through the festival from morning till night, there are noisy street parades with folklore music, fireworks explosions, traditional dances with masks that represent the Spanish conquistadors, religious rituals with strong incenses made by Maya priests and lots of alcohol that brings the celebrators to loss of senses.
Local men perform one of the traditional dances at the foot of the 400-year old church of Santo Tomás.
Musicians play folk music at the entrance to the church of Santo Tomás.
Steam comes out of the pots of a small eatery in the central market plaza.
Celebrators take a break from the celebrations to eat in one of the many small eateries in the market plaza.
A woman with her son next to a street vendor's stall in the market plaza.
First morning light over an empty market street before the day of celebrations begins.
Homemade rockets go off in front of the church of Santo Tomás.
A man passed out next to a traditional parade in front of the church of Santo Tomás.
Women watch the street celebrations from their window.
A street vendor rests next to his stall at the end of the festival day.
A child wearing a traditional dancing costume crosses the street in the early morning after participating in a night parade.
A man wearing a Santa Claus costume overlooking the town's plaza amidst shredded papers falling from the top of the church.
A girl hugs her boyfriend in front of a local shop, next to drunk men who have passed out all over the street after a day of celebrations.
A young woman washes the pots in one of the small eateries.
Men spinning in circles down the wooden poles in the town's main plaza, dancing the traditional flying pole dance.
Maya women wearing the traditional dresses watch a street parade.
A man gets warm next to a bonfire during the night’s celebrations.
Costumed dancers representing Spanish conquistadors, rest in between the traditional Dance of the Conquest performances.
A child falls asleep in a bus during the celebrations.
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