For those of us living in the US, the Fourth of July is a day to celebrate our country’s independence. Over the years, many different traditions have become popular including picnics, barbecues, trips to the lake, and wearing red, white, and blue. One of the most popular traditions is the lighting of fireworks.
But why do we commemorate Independence Day with a bunch of bright, loud explosions? Some historians say that John Adams started the tradition. He wanted a grand celebration that would include, “illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.” The first Independence Day fireworks were set off on July 4, 1777 and they have been popular ever since.
Though Fourth of July fireworks are beautiful, our celebrations sometimes pale in comparison to those of our friends’ in Guatemala. As it turns out, Guatemalans are known for their love of fireworks. During holidays like Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, and the Burning of the Devil, everyone lights off fireworks. It’s not limited to one organized show like it typically is in the US. Also, Guatemalans use fireworks to celebrate just about every occasion possible including church holidays, anniversaries, saints days, store openings, parades, neighborhood celebrations, and of course birthdays. If it’s your birthday, your day will usually start early in the morning by setting off a bunch of fireworks and then singing Happy Birthday or another song called, “Las Mañanitas.”
A fiesta of any kind isn’t complete without a bunch of things that go BOOM, and theirs are usually quite impressive (and sometimes a little dangerous). Many times, fiestas include “toritos,” men dressed up as “little bulls” who dance around with a wire cage that is covered in fireworks. Toritos are known to charge into the crowd, an exciting but frightening thought for most of us in the US.
Most Guatemalan fireworks are rich, colorful, and extreme. If you go to a typical kiosk, you’ll find a myriad of choices including pistolitas, cohetes, fosforitos, arbolitos, tanque, metralladora, volcancitos, chiltepitos, bombas, batería de luces, ametralladoras, and many others.
So the next time you’re in Guatemala and hear explosions or see lights in the sky, don’t panic. It’s probably just someone’s birthday or a neighborhood party.