Kite flying : day of the dead

In parts of South America and Mexico November 1st is celebrated as the Day of the Dead. This festival celebrates death by honoring the dead with flowers, food, and kites as well as celebrating life and vitality through children. The celebration originally took place at the beginning of the summer but with the arrival of Spanish Christian priests during the Spanish Conquest the holiday was moved to the fall and is now celebrated during the first two days of November.

In Santiago Sacatepequez, Guatemala they have a huge kite festival. This festival is part of the tradition of “Dia de los Muertos” and symbolizes the connection people still have with their past relatives and ancestors. Some say that it also helps the soul ascend to the after life. People fly their beautiful graceful kites from graveyards that have been decorated with flowers, food and other items. The kites used in the celebration are circular and are made from bamboo, colorful paper, string, and wire. These are not small kites; some of the biggest kites are up-wards of 30 feet across! Groups of men get together many weeks before the festival to start preparing their wonderful tethered creations.

The circular kites are constructed from bamboo poles radiating from the center of the kite and concentric circular or horizontal bamboo to help it keep it’s shape. The kites appear to be constructed in two parts; first the skin of the kite is made, then the frame is built and attached to the kite as one large structure. The tips of the spars are usually decorated with some kind of flag or streamer that is free to flap in the wind. The kites are decorated with religous or folkloric images, sometimes of the past relatives and some with multi-colored panels arranged in concentric circles. Giant poles erected in the earth act as braces and hold these huge kites upright. Once kites have flown and “fallen” repeatedly they will, of course, sustain quite a bit of damage. Hall Hammond reports in an issue of KiteLines that “When each [kite] has been damaged beyond repair, its makers rip off the paper skin and set it afire on the grave of the dead loved one“. What a spectacle it must be to see these enormous kites towering far above the graveyard.


A couple of news articles have been posted this week about the Day of the Dead. Specifically focusing on the efforts of the Brolly Arts organization in Salt Lake City, Utah and how they are spreading information about this celebration and kites. The Brolly Arts organization together with local schools plan on making kites with hundreds of children this week. You can read more in articles appearing on and in the Salt Lake Tribune.


  • Salvador, R. J. (2003). What Do Mexicans Celebrate On The Day Of The Dead? Pp. 75-76, IN Death And Bereavement In The Americas. Death, Value And Meaning Series, Vol. II. Morgan, J. D. And P. Laungani (Eds.) Baywood Publishing Co., Amityville, New York. Available online here
  • Hamond, Hall. Toto Santos:All Saints Day in Guatemala’s Hills, Pp. 22-24, KiteLines Issue, Fall 1977 Vol 1. No.3. Available online at
  • Top inset image:

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