The streets of K’iche’ Maya town of Chichicastenango in the highlands have long been known for their colorful markets. But each year, the commemoration of All Saints Day marks a change in the streets of the town. It is the beginning of the month and a half festival season which culminates in the yearly festival of the town’s patron saint, Santo Tomás Apóstol.
“This is the tradition that the people of Chichicastenango have maintained for years,” explains Juan, a member of the Cofradía of Santo Tomás. “This is the day of our ancestors that have gone to be with God.”
Beginning at 7 in the morning on November 1, the town center of Chichicastenango transforms into a huge fair. The air is very festive, and vendors selling all kinds of breads, flowers, and snacks take over the streets. Each year, residents gather to watch and enjoy the Dance of the Little Bulls (Baile de Toritos), and the Dance of the Mexicans (Baile de los Mexicanos). The participants in these dances are usually from Chichicastenango, and they spend most of the year preparing for this particular day.
“The family that is the patron of the dance works for a year to provide the money for it, the food for the participants and the marimba,” explains Tomás Conos, who was accompanying a group of dancers. “Each of the participants provides their own clothing.”
The nearly 50 families that participate in each presentation begin working in April, just after Semana Santa. The dance, which dates back to the Spanish conquest, depicts a celebration of a cattle rancher, and his guests.
There is another special dance that takes place during the festivities. In this particular performance, the members of the cofradía hook the sacred horse carrying Santo Tomás and coins to ropes and firecrackers. Then, they make it dance over the town’s central plaza as the crowd watches from below. According to Juan, the horse is directly tied to Santo Tomás.
“The horse is the principal letter from Santo Tomás,” says Juan. “Without the horse, Santo Tomás is nothing.”