Firecracker stalls in Panajachel

Christmas in Guatemala (Boom!)

Guatemalans love to celebrate pretty much everything with loud, booming blasts. Christmas is no exception. In preparation for the annual Christmas Eve blast-fest, vendors are lined up with stall after stall selling all manner of things that go boom. This photo was taken on the Calle Principal in Panajachel, a block down from the market. Six stalls sell pretty much the same things, all of which are loud. Welcome to Christmas in Guatemala.

The piles of firecrackers aren’t limited to the big stalls. As you drive through any Guatemalan town, you’ll see tables piled high with small exploding devices. Even the tiny tienda next to our house has a mound on firecrackers a table in front.

What’s happens to all of these loud exploding devices? At midnight on Christmas Eve, the uninitiated my think they’re in a war zone. The initiated find a place to give comfort to their freaked-out dogs and have earplugs ready. It seems to last for hours, but my sense of time has been as shaken as my nerves. The booms are repeated, though on a smaller scale, at noon on Christmas day.

In 2015, I was in a Guatemala City airport B&B, preparing to fly out early the next morning. Beautiful fireworks surrounded us, interspersed with party music and the blasts of firecrackers. I did not sleep much. As my taxi took me to the airport, we traveled down streets thick with the paper remains of thousands of firecrackers.

Of course, loud noises aren’t the only Guatemalan Christmas tradition. Families typically gather on Christmas Eve, enjoying tamales and hot chocolate or ponche de frutas. At midnight, everyone takes to the streets to set off the fireworks. Gifts are usually opened after midnight.

If you live in Guatemala and this is your first Christmas here, be prepared for the midnight cacophony!


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  1. Maybe as much as half the population was born after the “armed conflict” and the peace accords. Schools don’t teach much about the violence — and are lax in other areas of course.

    I have seen small children selling “bombas” along the street from their “mobile tienda” trays.

    1. I don’t think people here equate firecrackers and bombas with the armed conflict–even those who lived through it. Mark says they were exploding plenty of firecrackers then too.

  2. An interesting celebratory activity considering the “violence” of the civil war only ended 20 years ago. For me, the “bombas”, the non-colourful ones, are too similiar to military explosives.

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