Even though I’ve been in and out of Guatemala for the better part of almost three years, there are traditions I’ve never encountered before and some which I still don’t fully understand. As part of Antigua’s New Year’s Eve celebrations, there were two such events I was looking forward to watching: The Baile de Moros y Cristianos (Dance of the Moors and Christians) and the Quema de Toritos y Alas (Burning of Wings and Bulls).
Baile de Moros y Cristianos
This dance is one of those traditions that have endured even though the actual events that inspired it occurred well before colonial times and a continent away. In Spain, this tradition is much more elaborate and recalls the time when Moors (or Muslims) dominated the territory that is now considered Spain. Eventually, the Christians reconquered their land from Muslim rule in the 15th century. By the time Spaniards established themselves in the territory that is now Guatemala, they had already been celebrating their victories over Moors for centuries.
These dances, in particular, were a not-so-subtle reminder for the Maya that the Spaniards were on the side of the “good” guys and would triumph over those who opposed them. Spaniards represented Virgin Mary in her customary blue, while the Moors were dressed in red, much like the devil, who was purported to be on their side. Additionally, there are good sheep and evil goats. This allegory played nicely with the Maya’s religious beliefs, which strongly assert the existence of good and bad spiritual forces and conveniently co-opted by Catholic missionaries.
Baile de Las Abuelitas
This dance is relatively recent, as the custom started less than 20 years ago. The Dance of the Grandmothers is a fixture at Independence Day celebrations in Guatemala. This particular dance company is from the nearby town of El Tejar, where the dance originated, though there is now a myriad of copycat groups, each trying to outdo each other. The Pregonero (Town Cryer) could also be seen walking around, announcing the start of each dance/event. Curiously, at the one event where the Town Cryer would’ve been the most useful – the countdown before the stroke of midnight, the Town Cryer went missing and was nowhere to be found.
Baile de las Abuelitas antigua guatemala
Quema de Toritos y Alas
Another important tradition I’d never seen in person before was the Quema de Toritos y Alas (Burning of the Bull and Wings). The Spaniards also brought this tradition to Guatemalans, the latter who very much love their fireworks. To say Guatemalan love fireworks is akin to saying that fishes love water – they absolutely cannot get enough.
This particular celebration was tamer than most – in its traditional interpretation, the man carrying the contraption loaded with fireworks actively chases people around a plaza. In this particular one, the “bull” just limited itself to pacing up and down the center of the street.
Quema de Toritos y Alas New Year’s Eve Antigua Guatemala
As mentioned earlier, fireworks play an important role during any on here in Guatemala. Midnight in New Year’s Day is no exception. There are two popular places to await the stroke of midnight here in Antigua. One is in front of the Municipal Palace across Parque Central, the other at Calle del Arco. Having done the first, this year I had the opportunity the latter. Much more crowded than the other location, it’s not for claustrophobic people, although there wasn’t any pushing or shoving that one might expect. It was a fitting fireworks display to end the evening.