Traditions and customs of Guatemala

What traditions and customs are there in Guatemala?

Overview of the customs and traditions of Guatemala.


Food in daily life

Corn made into tortillas or tamales, black beans, rice, and wheat in the form of bread or pasta are staple foods that almost all Guatemalans consume.

Depending on their degree of wealth, people also eat chicken, pork, and beef, and those who live near bodies of water also eat fish and shellfish. With improvements in refrigeration and transportation, seafood is becoming more popular in Guatemala City.

he country has long been known for its vegetables and fruits, including avocados, radishes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, carrots, beets, onions, and tomatoes.

Lettuce, peas, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, artichokes and turnips are grown for export and are also available in local markets; they are consumed more by Ladinos than by Indians.

Fruits include pineapples, papayas, mangoes, a variety of melons, citrus, peaches, pears, plums, guavas, and many others of native and foreign origin. The fruit is consumed as a dessert or as a snack between meals.

Three meals a day is the general rule, with the largest being eaten at midday. Until recently, most stores and businesses in urban areas closed for two to three hours to give employees time to eat at home and rest before returning to work.

Transportation problems due to increased traffic, both in buses and private vehicles, are causing a rapid change in this custom.

In rural areas, women bring the midday meal to the men in the fields, often accompanied by their children so that the family can eat as a group. Tortillas are eaten by everyone, but they are especially important to the Indians, who can eat up to a dozen at a time, usually with chili, sometimes with beans and/or stews made with meat or dried shrimp.

Breakfast for the well can be large, including fruit, cereal, eggs, bread, and coffee; the poor may drink only a porridge, a thin porridge made with any of several thickeners – oatmeal, cornstarch, cornmeal, or even freshly ground corn.

Others can only have coffee with sweet bread. All beverages are heavily sweetened with refined or brown sugar. Dinner is always lighter than at noon.

Although there are no food taboos, many people believe that specific foods are classified as “hot” or “cold” in nature, and there may be temporary prohibitions on eating them, depending on age, body condition, time of day, or other factors. factors.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

The ceremonial year is largely determined by the Roman Catholic Church, even for those who do not profess that faith. Thus, the Christmas period, including Advent and Three Kings’ Day on January 6, and Easter are important holidays for everyone. The patron saints of each town, village or city are honored on their respective days.

The organization of the brotherhood, imposed by the colonial Spanish Catholic Church, is less important now, but where it persists, special meals are prepared. Tamales are the most important ceremonial food. They are eaten on all special occasions, including parties and private celebrations, and on weekends, which are special because Sunday is recognized as a holy day as well as a public holiday.

On November 1, Day of the Dead, a special vegetable and meat salad called fiambre is eaten when families gather at cemeteries to honor, placate, and share food with deceased relatives.

Cod cooked in a variety of ways is eaten at Easter, and Christmas is again the time for gourmet tamales and punch, a rum-based drink that contains spices and fruit. Beer and rum, including a fairly crude variety known as schnapps are the most popular alcoholic beverages, although Scotch whiskey is preferred by urban elites.


Marriages are sometimes arranged in Mayan communities, although most couples choose each other and often elope. Membership in private clubs and attendance at private schools offer middle- and upper-class youth the chance to meet potential partners.

Parents may disapprove of a selection, but their children may be able to persuade them. Marriages are celebrated in a civil ceremony that may be followed by a religious rite. Monogamy is the rule, although many men have a mistress as well as a wife.

Among the poorer classes, both Mayans and ladinos, unions are free and ties are fragile; many children do not know it, nor are they recognized by their parents. Formal divorces are more common than many people realize, despite the disapproval of the Catholic Church.

Until recently, a divorced woman did not have the right to keep her husband’s surname, but she can claim a portion of his assets to support herself and her minor children.


Etiquette varies considerably by ethnicity. In the past, Indians were expected to submit to Ladinos, generally showing them respect and submission at all times. In turn, they were treated by the ladinos as children or as people of little value.

Some of those modes of behavior carry over into their own society, especially within the guild organization, where deliberate rudeness is considered appropriate by the highest-ranking officers.

Today there is a more egalitarian attitude on both sides, and in some cases younger Mayans may openly display their contempt for non-indigenous people.

Mayan children greet adults by bowing their heads and sometimes folding their hands before them, as in prayer. Adults verbally greet other adults, asking them about their health and that of their family. They are not physically demonstrative.

Among urban Ladino women, greetings and farewells require a handshake, pats on the arms or shoulders, hugs, and even kisses on the cheeks, almost from the first time they meet.

The men hug and kiss the cheeks of the female friends of the family, and they hug but do not kiss. Children are taught to kiss all adult relatives and close acquaintances of their parents to say hello and goodbye.

In smaller towns and until recently in cities, if eye contact is made with strangers on the street, it is customary to say “good morning” or “good afternoon.”


Religious beliefs

Roman Catholicism, which was introduced by the Spanish and modified by Mayan interpretations and syncretism, was nearly universal in Guatemala until the early 20th century, when Protestantism began to make significant inroads among both Ladinos and Mayans.

Today it has been estimated that perhaps 40 percent or more adhere to a Protestant church or sect ranging from established churches with international membership to small local groups celebrating their own beliefs under the leadership of lay pastors.

Many Mayans combine membership in a Christian community with a continuing set of beliefs and practices inherited from their ancient ancestors. Rituals may still be performed to ensure agricultural success, easy childbirth, recovery from illness and protection from the elements (including eclipses), and to honor and remember the dead.

The Garifuna continue to practice an Afro-Caribbean form of ancestor worship that helps unite families broken by migration, plural marriages and a social environment hostile to people of their race and culture.

Many of the indigenous people believe in the spirits of nature, especially in specific caves, mountains, and bodies of water, and their religious leaders regularly perform ceremonies related to these sites.

The Catholic Church has generally been more lenient in allowing or ignoring dual loyalties than Protestants, who tend to insist on strict adherence to doctrine and the abandonment of all “non-Christian” beliefs and practices, including Catholicism.

The arts and humanities

Arts support

The Ministry of Culture provides moral and financial support for the arts, but most artists are self-sufficient. Art and crafts are important to all sectors of the population; artists are respected and patronized, especially in cities where there are numerous art galleries.

Even some of the smaller towns, such as Tecpán, Comalapa, and Santiago de Atitlán, offer paintings by local artists for sale to both foreign and Guatemalan visitors.

There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of “primitive” indigenous painters, some of whom are internationally known. Its products form an important part of the local tourism and collecting offer. Non-indigenous painters are exhibited mainly in the capital, including many foreign and Guatemalan artists.

Graphic arts

The textiles, especially those woven by the women on the indigenous backstrap loom, are of such fine quality that they have been the subject of academic study. The Ixchel Museum of Indian Textiles, located in Guatemala City at the Francisco Marroquín University, archives, preserves, studies, and exhibits textiles from all over the country.

Pottery ranges from the utilitarian to the ritual and is often associated with specific communities, such as Chinautla and Rabinal, where it has been a local craft for centuries. There are several museums, both public and private, where the most exquisite ancient and modern pieces are exhibited.

Performing arts

Music has been important in Guatemala since colonial times, when the Catholic Church used it to teach Christian doctrine. Both the doctrine and the musical styles were adopted at an early date.

The work of Maya, who composed European-style classical music in the 16th and 17th centuries, has been revived and is performed by various local groups, some using replicas of ancient instruments. William Orbaugh, a Guatemalan of Swiss descent, is internationally known for his interpretations of classical and popular music for the guitar.

Garífuna music, especially that of Caribbean origin, is popular in both Guatemala and the United States, which has a large expatriate Garífuna population. Other popular music comes from Mexico, Argentina, and especially the United States. The marimba is the popular favorite instrument, both in the city and in the country.

There is a national symphony, as well as a national ballet, choir and opera company, all of which perform at the National Theatre, a large imposing structure built on the site of an old fort near the center of town.

Theater is less developed, although several amateur and semi-professional private groups perform in both Spanish and English. The city of Antigua Guatemala is an important center for the arts, along with the cities of Guatemala and Quetzaltenango.

Customs and traditions of Guatemala.

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