Published in Revue Magazine December 2013 -by Amalia Moreno-Damgaard
The holidays bring me closer to home year after year. Home is definitely, where the heart is and Guatemala has always been very near and dear to my heart. Typical Guatemalan holiday fare offers inviting aromas and scrumptious flavors that go back thousands of years blending Mayan with colonial Spanish and religious traditions.
Since childhood I grew accustomed to anticipating the celebrations that begin almost as early as the calendar marks December. Memories of tasty treats lingered in my head counting the days until I could once again savor my favorite foods. Guatemalan holiday food traditions revolve around religious celebrations that start with Día de Guadalupe (Dec 12) followed by Las Posadas (Dec 15-23), Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and New Years, ending with Three Kings’ Day (Jan 6).
Día de Guadalupe (Virgin of Guadalupe Day), celebrated around the country, but most notably in Antigua and Guatemala City at Santuario de la Virgen de Guadalupe, is a cultural experience on its own. I have vivid memories of the crowds and sitting on small wooden benches under loosely hung nylon tents enjoying the best street foods ever at stalls near the Sanctuary. Buñuelos (pastry puffs with spiced anise syrup), Torrejas (raisin-stuffed buns with spiced syrup), Garnachas (tasty tortilla morsels topped with chicken and spicy cabbage slaw), Tostadas (crispy corn tortillas topped with guacamole, beans and salsa) and Atol de Elote (fresh corn hot drink), were sold like hot cakes.
Las Posadas, neighborhood processions reenacting Mary and Joseph’s time up to the birth of Christ (9 days representing nine gestation months), is a tradition that came to Latin America from Spain celebrated very uniquely in each country. During Posada (hostel) season, Mary and Joseph spend the night at nine different homes. In Guatemala, Tamales Colorados and Tamales Negros (red chicken or pork tamales in banana leaves and black sweet Christmas rice tamales with mole sauce), Ponche (fresh pineapple and dried fruits holiday punch) (picture on the right) and Chocolate black (Guatemalan hot chocolate), are the traditional foods not only served at a Las Posadas gathering, but also on Christmas Eve, or Noche Buena. The latter versus Christmas Day weighs heavier on Guatemalans because it is the night Jesus is born. Although the tamale is king because of its cultural relevance (eaten every Saturday of the year), Pavo (Guatemalan Holiday roasted turkey) is sometimes preferred by Ladinos (mix of Spanish or other European with Mayan ethnicity), along with manzanas, uvas and nueces (apples, red grapes and nuts).
Rosca de Reyes or Torta de Reyes celebrates Epiphany and is a favorite of the young and old on Día de Reyes (Three Kings’ Day). The fruitcake resembling a wreath is fun to eat while trying to discover who has landed the piece with little Jesus inside. The lucky “blessed” winner must take his finding to the nearest church on Candlemas Day (Candelaria) on Feb 2. Legend goes that this tradition of “hiding Jesus” inside the cake ties to the times of Herod who feared the birth of the Messiah and ordered all male babies murdered. Interestingly, in Latin America, Three Kings’ Day used to be the day when children received their presents in unison with the presents brought to Jesus by the three Magi!
¡Felices Pascuas y Próspero Año Nuevo!