Christmas in Guatemala: Convite in San Miguel Escobar

Procesion Virgen de Guadalupe Antigua

One of the benefits of living in a small town on the outskirts of Antigua is that you run into all sorts of events that go unnoticed by those who stick exclusively to Antigua’s center. On more than one occasion we have run into festivities and carnivals that we had no idea were scheduled.

A popular event that takes place in towns all across Guatemala are “Convites”, which literally means “invitation to gather”. These Convites vary wildly in size and traditions, but at the core they are really just parades that offer locals the opportunity to have a great time and listen to music. Convites are generally held a day before a major religious procession, though this is not always the case.

The particular convite we encountered took place in San Miguel Escobar, a small town annexed to Ciudad Vieja. The purpose of the convite was to announce the town’s New Year’s Day procession, featuring the image of Virgen de la Concepcion. The church of San Miguel was decorated splendidly.

Church of San Miguel Escobar-1

Church of San Miguel Escobar-1-2

The main event today, however, was the convite running through the town’s streets. Each “cofradía,” or “religious brotherhood,” organizes a particular display for the parade. Often, they’ll choose a religious theme to highlight. Also, groups of neighbors get together and organize groups that are set up to participate in events like this one.

A popular theme is that of “old people dancing.” It got started about 20 years ago and they always make an appearance during major festivities.

Convite San Miguel Escobar Guatemala-1

Convite San Miguel Escobar Guatemala-1-2

Here’s a brotherhood enacting the “Prodigal Son” scene from the Bible.

Convite San Miguel Escobar Guatemala-1-3

Children are prominently featured in these parades. This particular float’s theme honored Virgen de la Concepcion, whose procession was scheduled the next day.

Convite San Miguel Escobar Guatemala-1-9

Each “Virgin,” or representation of Mary has a special dress/crown that is instantly recognizable. The virgin dressed in blue with the silver crown is Concepcion.

Convite San Miguel Escobar Guatemala-1-8

This other float featured Virgen de Guadalupe, of Mexican tradition, which would explain the red/green dress matching the Mexican flag. The mustachioed companions represent Juan Diego, the first indigenous American saint who first saw the apparitions of the Guadalupe Virgin. The usual day of celebration for Guadalupe is on December 12th, but I guess the costumes were too good to pass up using them a second time around.

Convite San Miguel Escobar Guatemala-1-12

Convite San Miguel Escobar Guatemala-1-13

This particular float is an old tradition. It features Death, Satan, and his minions. Per tradition, Satan’s “personal assistant” carries a notebook “writing” down names of those that Satan has his eyes on. By the way, if you notice their hair, it’s long and curly, which suspiciously resembles that used to represent Spanish Conquistador Pedro de Alvarado’s famous mane of hair. A not-too-subtle dig at the authorities, perhaps?

Convite San Miguel Escobar Guatemala-1-11

Most of the town comes out for these parades when they roll through town. We did not spot a single tourist among the crowd, even though Antigua was crawling with tourists that day.

Convite San Miguel Escobar Guatemala-1-14

Here’s another float, depicting the scene where Jesus told Peter to throw the fishing nets overboard once more.

Convite San Miguel Escobar Guatemala-1-15

No parade could be complete without music, which was provided by the Viejas Coquetonas, or “Flirty Old Ladies.” They put on a short show at each stop, which can get tiring after a while. Below, there’s a YouTube clip I recorded of the event.

Convite San Miguel Escobar Guatemala-1-17

Convite San Miguel Escobar Guatemala-1-18

People that find Antigua too “snobbish” or not “authentic” enough need to get out more. There are plenty of Guatemalan traditions to enjoy if one wants to find them.



What are your favorite Guatemalan traditions?

Christmas in Guatemala: Christmas’ Eve Shopping at The Mercado

Antigua Guatemala Christmas

It’s Christmas Eve in Guatemala today and I thought to take a trip to the Mercado for some pictures. Antigua’s Mercado, our main market, has been buzzing with activity these past few days. I don’t find the Mercado as chaotic as diving into a shopping mall in the US during the last shopping days of Christmas season – not that I miss it.

I’ve definitely seen more people here during Holy Week than at Christmastime. I hear that Guatemala City’s traffic and shopping malls become unbearable during this time of year, another good reason to stay close to Antigua until the madness in the city dies down.

Aside from the decorations, Christmas trinkets and the sale of apples and grapes, the Mercado looks very much the same as it does throughout the year.

Antigua Guatemala Mercado

Antigua Mercado at Christmastime

Antigua Guatemala Mercado

Apples, Grapes, and Cider are Popular Christmas Items

Of more interest in this photo, an excursion was the temporary area set up specifically for Christmas items, which is where most people buy traditional items required to properly decorate a home.

It seems that most celebrations call for the use of colored sawdust, which is prominent in the creation of “alfombras“, or flower carpets used during religious processions. But colored sawdust also makes its way into nativity scenes and other decorations. A bag of colored sawdust sells for Q1.

Antigua Guatemala Christmas

Colored Sawdust

Antigua Guatemala Market

Young Child Selling Sawdust

Antigua Guatemala Mercado

Sawdust Seller Hoping for a Last-Minute Bump in Sales

Another peculiar item is garlands made of manzanilla, literally meaning “little apple”, and known as tejocote in Mexico. These fruits grow in the wild and are collected at the slopes of Agua Volcano, near the town of Santa Maria de Jesus. These fruits are eaten preserved in honey.

During Christmas time, however, the tradition is to string long garlands and let them dry out. Its scent and that of pine needles are very much what Guatemalans associate with Christmas. Manzanilla garlands are typically hung on doors, windows, and Christmas trees. Learn more about manzanilla here.

Mazanilla Navidad Guatemala

Manzanilla Stand

Mazanilla de Guatemala

Manzanilla Garland

The Christmas section of the Mercado is fairly small when compared to the rest of the market. The section consists of less than 10 rows and most of the merchandise is fairly similar, making comparison shopping painless.

Antigua guatemala Christmas

Antigua Mercado Christmas Section

Antigua Guatemala Christmas

Antigua Mercado Christmas Section

Antigua Guatemala Christmas

Antigua Mercado Christmas Section

This is one of my favorite decoration items – corn husk sheep:

Antigua Mercado Christmas

The items for sale are interesting. If you’d like to see them, check out this gallery below:


What’s your favorite Christmas tradition

in Guatemala?


Christmas in Guatemala: Burning of the Devil (Quema del Diablo)

Quema del Diablo Guatemala

There’s an interesting tradition that takes place in Guatemala every December 7th. It is called the “Quema del Diablo” (Burning of the Devil), where a paper figure of the Devil is burned to the roar of the crowd. This happens all across the country, at 6 p.m.

Since we missed it last year, our family took a trip to Barrio La Concepcion, the neighborhood on the east side of Antigua – 4ta Calle Oriente, where the burning takes place every year (sometimes a little too close to the gas station nearby).

As we approached the site, we noticed the place buzzing with activity. Turns out there’s a cottage industry of devil-burning related merchandise, as people buy their own little pinata-sized devils to burn in front of their homes. Light-up horns are the “must-have” item for party-goers.

Quema del Diablo Guatemala

Horns everywhere!

There were street vendors everywhere.

Quema del Diablo Guatemala

Food stalls

Quema del Diablo Guatemala

Chocolate-strawberry “kebabs”

A platform had been setup for the ensuing concert after the devil burning had been completed.

Quema del Diablo Guatemala

Free concert

According to tradition, the practice began in colonial times. The Virgin of Immaculate Conception is honored on December 8th, and to prepare, vigils were held the previous night. To light the streets – remember, no electricity – residents lit torches. Those who couldn’t find torches to set ablaze burned whatever garbage they could gather and burn it in front of the house.

The ruins of Concepcion Church are nearby – hence the name of the neighborhood – and the image of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception was on display for all to see.

Quema del Diablo Guatemala

Virgen de la Concepción

It’s an interesting tradition worth checking out if you happen to be in Guatemala during that time.

Here’s a video I took of the Quema del Diablo in Antigua:


Ever been to Antigua on December 7th?

Shopping at Walmart Guatemala, PriceSmart and Cemaco

PriceSmart Guatemala

So you’re all settled in Antigua. You found a beautiful house with a courtyard overlooking Agua Volcano, or a terrace where you can catch Fuego Volcano eruptions comfortably and safely out of harm. Life is good, you’ve already figured out two or three favorite restaurants you love to frequent, everything’s new and exciting, and you can’t believe you’ve already moved here after so much planning and daydreaming.

This honeymoon period with Antigua lasts about a month or two because eventually, you’ll start feeling out of sorts. Sure, the food’s great, but you can’t keep eating out every day. Soon, you’ll start craving those things you had back home, like Dijon mustard, sweet relish, maybe bacon. Local Bodegona Supermarket has served you well, but the selection starts feeling limited. Shopping at the Mercado is still a bit confusing and because your Spanish is limited, you haven’t gotten the intricacies of bargaining quite right yet.

What you want to do, at least until you get your bearings, is go grocery shopping, Gringo style. Someplace where you can just fill up a cart with all the brands you know and love, whip out that credit card when the bill is due, no need for chit-chat or haggling.

Well, you’re in luck, because only 45 minutes away from Antigua lies Guatemala City, with an assortment of malls and big-box stores to satisfy every need. Just imagine you’re driving a gas-guzzling V8 and you’ll feel like you’re pulling up to a suburban mall parking lot in Anytown, USA. Well, except for the shotgun-carrying parking lot attendant who hands you your check-in ticket.

The three stores you’ll want to be acquainted with at first – and the easiest ones to get to – are PriceSmart, Wal-Mart, and Cemaco, the last one very similar to Target in the US, minus the groceries and with a bigger hardware department. All three stores are accessible from Roosevelt Avenue, which leads directly from Antigua.

Here’s what you need to know to get your grocery shopping done like a pro:


PriceSmart Guatemala

PriceSmart is a membership club store, just like the ones in the US and very similar to Costco. In fact, I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the two if it weren’t for signage.

There are three PriceSmart locations in Guatemala City, but this one is the closest to Antigua and very easy to shop there. In fact, the three stores mentioned in this post are very close to each other, as is a nearby Sears.

PriceSmart parking lot

PriceSmart Guatemala City

PriceSmart is open every day, from 10a.m. to 8:30p.m. Monday through Friday, Saturdays 9:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. and Sundays from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. A word of advice: do your shopping during the week, if you can help it, as these stores get crowded on weekends.

Yeah, I know the sign says “No Cameras” below, so I took these pics with a cell phone instead ;)

Hours of operation

Hours of Operation

Signs are in Spanish throughout, but other than the prices, the store is virtually identical to any you’d find in the US. The place was clean, very organized, and disorienting to me because I couldn’t stop gawking at brands and items I thought I’d never see again.

Electronic aislesPriceSmart

Aisles at PriceSmart Guatemala

Clean Aisles

Even the cafeteria was exactly like the ones in the US, offering the same items. And of course, I had to try the US-style hot dogs, which are nothing like the hot dogs they sell in Guatemala. Was not disappointed.

Cafeteria at PriceSmart Guatemala

PriceSmart Cafeteria

PriceSmart requires you to become a member before you shop there. Most people will have to pay Q305 ($39USD) for the annual membership, which includes two membership cards. If you can prove you own a business here, your membership will cost Q262 ($35USD). Pricey, if you ask me, but worth it if you love to shop in bulk and crave items that can’t be found anywhere else.

Next up, the hated/beloved Walmart. If you’re the former, not the latter, skip to this section.

Wal-Mart Guatemala City

Wal-Mart has many locations in Guatemala – the also own Despensa Familiar and MaxiDespensa. Some people still refer to it as Hiper Paiz, as it was known before Wal-Mart bought the Guatemalan chain out. There are still Paiz Supermarkets around, which is very nice. In fact, the closest one is in San Lucas, only 25 minutes from Antigua and in a new shopping mall just off CA-1, the main highway that leads to Guatemala City.

Wal-Mart, like McDonald’s, is a remarkably similar experience no matter where you go – no exception here. Very similar layout and similar products.

Of course, no membership needed here, and prices are decent. Don’t bother at all with produce here or at PriceSmart, as it’s much cheaper at the Mercado.

In fact, during this trip, I saw a bag of avocados at PriceSmart retailing at five per Q30+ ($3.79USD). A steal, right? Except that the next day, a friend bought six avocados at Antigua’s Mercado for Q2. No, that’s not a typo. Literally for $0.25USD. Now, buying new clothing at the Mercado, I would not recommend, unless you enjoy purchasing one-time disposable clothing.

Parking lot at Walmar

Here’s a Weak Attempt at Trying to Make Wal-Mart Look Remotely Interesting

Just like a US store

Wal-Mart Gets Very Crowded on Weekends

Walmart Guatemala - pet food

Pet Food Aisle at Wal-Mart

The last store is my wife’s favorite, mine as well.

Cemaco Guatemala City

If you’re a fan of home decorating, Cemaco will be your best bet. This home furnishings store reminds me a lot of Target, except the variety and items are way better and the selection varied. This two-story store sits right across the street from Wal-Mart on Roosevelt Avenue, inside a big shopping mall.

Prices are decent for some things, outrageous for others. This location has a hardware store on the second floor and is a good place to find tools and small appliances you’re having a hard time finding in Antigua. It also has a large selection of grills and patio furniture, which unlike in colder climates in the US, will get used year-round in Antigua.

Cemaco Guatemala

Cemaco Has a Great Selection

Cemaco Guatemala

Christmas is Also a Big Shopping Season Here

So that about covers it for the major stores more readily accessible in Guatemala City. Keep in mind this a minuscule sampling, as there are immense, beautiful malls where you can shop that will rival anything you’ve ever seen in the US. These stores are what I call the “Gringo Circuit,” where the aim is to visit Guatemala City and get your shopping done as quickly as possible before hightailing it back to Antigua.


Check out more tips:


What’s your favorite store in Guatemala City?

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