Posted by: janetwright2guatemala | 09/11/2012

Putting on the Ritz in San Bartolo!… Feria!

10 septiembre 2012 lunes   

Indigenous Queen 2012

At the end of August every year, San Bartolenses throw themselves with complete abandon into the colorful pageantry of feria ….in honor of our patron saint, San Bartolome. Interesting note: Apparently 15-20 yrs ago the alcalde (mayor) tried to cancel feria due to a cholera scare. The people rose up and DEMANDED feria, so the mayor capitulated and luckily no infections resulted.  You do not mess with celebrations here. They are sacred!

Por supuesto every feria deserves “reinas” (queens or princesses)…so la gente (people) assemble in our municipal salon for the various “veladas” or elections which are extravagant pageants that are held no less than seven nights, often running to midnight…these can be true endurance tests (for the audience and participants). The candidates range from kindergarten age for “la reina infantile” to high school for the “flor de la feria”.  The prize? The adulation of the crowd and riding in a decorated float on parade day.

Fantasy outfit…almost ready for flight!

These events are taken VERY seriously, with parents remarkably finding the money to purchase not one, but THREE outfits worn by each wannabe reina. Some interesting results this year… the “fantasy costume” category for the 5-6yr olds yielded not one, but two girls dressed as Shrek’s girlfriend/wife!  Go figure. The long reach of Dreamworks films to my rural town in Guatemala.  Other costumes included the more culturally relevant indigenous outfits, but of course there is the runway strut in a “vestido de gala” or ballgown.  Seat time on those plastic chairs gets tiring, so musicians, clowns, and kid performances are offered up to the crowd to forget the discomfort.

Another fantasy outfit…made out of snack bags!

My co-workers in the muni were in charge of adornments for the velada of the “flor de la feria”…my Spanish totally failed me as I tried to explain that the helium-filled balloons would not remain aloft for a long time. Hmmm…what is the word for “membrane”? They never did understand that helium could leak through the balloon membrane, but when they saw balloons starting to descend during the decorating stage, they agreed to blow up the remaining balloons closer to the event time. Later in the evening, the balloons floated gently down to the audience which provided endless entertainment to the kids. Just as well. That velada went until midnight!

Our Mayan trajes…a rainbow of woven fabrics

This year I had a cameo appearance. Now that’s true cultural integration! Adornos (decorations) for the coronation of the Flor de la Feria were 20 Mayan trajes (outfits) which our muni borrowed from the Xela Historical Museum. Most of the outfits were hung on the walls, but five of us muni workers jumped at the opportunity to model these trajes….I picked a striking red outfit from the Alta Verapaz area. I particularly liked the full skirt and wished I could have borrowed it for the evening dance.  At event time, the museum curator called us forward from our seats on the stage to explain the history about our trajes. Fascinating stories of abstract patterns representing the complexity of life and more.

Carrot cake anyone? The girls and their mom

Not to forget my little friends from Patulup. For weeks they had peppered me with: What are we going to bake this year to sell? How much will we charge? When will we sell our treats? Basta. (That’s enough) So I set a date and time for baking…the Saturday afternoon before feria.  First up, carrot cake decorated with strawberries. I figured its thickness warranted a good price, so at 4 quetzales ($0.55), a customer could delight in our confection. Last year I was the promotional guru, however, my contract with them this year was more for baking help. I informed them that they needed to do the sales pitch this year. Well, we kind of achieved that with my prompting and encouragement…in a timid voice the girls would state the price when asked. Yep, more work on the PR dept. I usually described to customers that the kids were selling cake to earn money to spend at feria. One man said, “Well, it’s much better that they earn money than rob us.” Yes, but did he really think these cute munchkins were capable of robbing?

Enjoying feria with my little friends

Quickly, all pieces of carrot cake were sold on Sunday morning during market day, with Q80 earned. Flushed with visions of toys, food, and games the kids asked me if we could bake again. Who could say no? So we baked a banana cake that very afternoon. Again every pedazo (piece) on our platter disappeared into the hands and mouths of eager customers.  At one point, someone commented about our sale and I realized that he thought I was selling treats to earn money for MYSELF….and probably thought I was using cute kids to help my cause. Whoa. Now I knew that I needed to clarify the goal of our cake selling enterprise! You would have thought these kids had won the lottery by their delighted faces. The profit from selling two 8”x 13” pans of carrot and banana cake (a total yield of 40 pieces) was Q160 ($23)! More money than they had ever held in their lives. Counting it out, the big decision…How to spend the profits? The oldest girl used her authority to decide that each would have Q10 per day for 4 days of feria. So that’s how it went…threading our way amongst the crowd and the booths to assess what was worthy of their hard-earned money. Let’s see, there was the affinity for sunglasses, with three sporting their new look. Other quetzales got handed over for little cars, dart guns, toy cameras, makeup, ice cream and corn on the cob. A pretty good haul, I’d say. I offered up some advice regarding the durability of their future purchase…rather hard to find that in these cheap toys made in China.

Ricos, ricos, ricos! Rich!

The littlest chose a yo-yo that could flash lights, however, sadly and almost comically he was not tall enough to avoid bashing it into the ground each time it ran out its string…well, that toy lasted mere hours if that. Fortunately, most toys at least made it intact to the end of feria week. For the finale, the last day of feria, I added some quetzales of my own for rides and treats.  So glad I could contribute to happy memories for my little friends!

Por supuesto…a feria MUST offer up parades! Monday, August 20th was a parade of some school bands, but August 22ndwas the real show!  Kids of all grades and schools in San Bartolo filed in formation with dancers, flag-holders, and bands. The sun danced on the bright fabrics of the Mayan outfits, creating a true rainbow procession. Boys banged earnestly on their drums and girls played their xylophones more delicately.

Strutting for the crowds

All of San Bartolo was curbside or in the parade. A benefit of my second year living here is that I KNEW so many more kids and could wave and call out to them. As my Chotzague kids (site of our school garden) filed by, I waved and tried to entice smiles as their tired bodies paraded by. Yes, this was the best show in town!!

Did I party too much? Well, let’s just say that staying up until midnight for a velada didn’t help my already compromised health. My energy was definitely flagging… a quick trip to the doctor in Xela midweek of feria revealed that I had a sinus infection. Drats! Double drats! After a year of longing for an opportunity to dance in my town, I then had to forego the first night of dancing. The magic of antibiotics and fierce determination led me onto the dance floor for the last two nights. No way was I going to pass up this opportunity!

Luckily I found some good dance partners , including a city councilman who did well on the dance floor. As I headed home in the rain after the last dance, I smiled. Who knows if I shall be in San Bartolo next August for feria, but this year I had tasted all of the many flavors of feria, generating enough memories to last a good while. Feliz noche!


  1. What a fun event!
    I want to see the movies of the dancing!

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