Moncho’s Birthday


Every October 28, there’s a birthday party for San Simón in the highlands of Guatemala. The syncretic deity, known also as “Monchito”, is an important part of the country’s folklore. So, hundreds of followers of the tradition flock to the temple in San Andrés Itzapa, a town 22.1km northwest of La Antigua Guatemala, and throw one big party.

Believers of the cult of San Simón near the entrance to the temple grounds in San Andrés Itzapa. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

Small stores and diners line up the street leading to the temple’s entrance. Most of the shops sell Maximón or San Simón paraphernalia, as well as alcohol, cigarettes and candles. Most of them have their own small effigy of Maximón, often surrounded by offerings to the folk saint. During the celebration, a couple of bars are set up on the temple’s courtyard. Some people dance and sing while others venerate the sacred image. The main followers of San Simón tend to be from the fringes of Guatemalan society. They arrive early on to pay their respect to the deity and offer the traditional gifts of tobacco, alcohol, flowers and sweets to its image.

“I dress San Simón every year in white so it represents purity”, says Cassandra, a local priestess. As she, on a tangent, explains how the cult around La Santa Muerte and its image began well before the birth of Christ, she dresses four images at her altar in various colors. Her apprentice watches on as he smokes cigars which are believed to possess medicinal powers.

In a different part of the temple, another shaman named Francisco explains that the turnout for this event used to be much larger. According to this shaman, people would show up at the temple by the thousands every 28 of October. He explains that there are more images of San Simón available through the country nowadays, so people now visit the one closest to them. Another factor, he says, is the parking lot nearby. On a normal day, the owners of the lot will charge Q.5 ($0.67USD) per car. But on San Simóns birthday, the price hikes up to Q.25 ($3.34USD).

October 28th is also a big day in the Catholic Calendar. Not only is it the day of Saint Simon the Zealot, one of Jesus’ more obscure apostles, but also Saint Jude Thaddeus. In the Catholic Church, St. Jude is known as the patron saint of lost causes and desperate situations, and his image is also featured at the temple in San Andrés Itzapa.

Followers of San Simón light candles as offerings to the devious deity. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

A shaman or spiritual guide cleans candles in the temple of San Simón. Photo: Santiago Billy/comvite

A man smokes a cigar, these cigars are believed to have medicinal properties and are usually smoked on a single sitting. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

Small figurines of San Simón with cigarretes. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

A woman lights candles in honor of San Simón. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

The main San Simón in the temple with a printe poster wishing “happy birthday”. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

A man cleanses a woman using chilca leaves. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

A young woman after recieving a cleansing. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

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