The Guatemalan year begins with the sound of firecrackers on New Year's Eve (January 1), when people change into new clothes to ensure luck for the coming year. The year ends with the practical jokes of December 28, the Day of the Innocents, when jokers are traditionally safe from retribution.

Between January 1 and December 28, Guatemala holds hundreds of festivals. Every village and city has its own patron saint, whose day is celebrated with music, processions and fireworks. Some local celebrations, like the horse races of Todos Santos or the giant kites flown at Santiago Sacatepéquez, are famous throughout Guatemala.

Numerous festivals are also celebrated nationally. Carnaval occurs a few weeks before Easter. Guatemalans dress in masks and costumes, fling water and flour at passersby and break open painted eggshells filled with confetti - preferably on somebody's head. The week before Easter is Holy Week, the most solemn time of the Guatemalan calendar. Families and neighbours create intricately patterned "carpets" on their streets, sometimes made of flowers and leaves, but most often of coloured sawdust. Women, men and children work throughout the night to prepare the ground for Holy Week processions, when images of Jesus and the Virgin Mary are carried through the streets. Easter is a day for more processions, and for eating bunuelos (small cakes with honey), which are the traditional sweet on feast days.

On All Saintsí Day (November 1), Guatemalans return to their birthplace to place food, drinks and flowers on the graves of their friends and families. December 7 is "devil-burning day," when people scour their homes for things that can be thrown away; the trash is burnt in front of each house to purify it for the Christmas season.

The days before Christmas are filled with parties and preparations. Houses are decorated with pine wreaths, poinsettias and manzanillas (a small yellow fruit) and display almost life-sized replicas of the Nativity scene. Christmas Eve is an occasion to eat tamales, drink punch and set off fireworks.

January 1 New Year's Day
January 6 Epiphany
March/April Holy Week, Easter
May 1 Labour Day
September 15 Independence Day
October 12 Columbusí Landing in America
October 20 Revolution Day
November 1 All Saintsí Day
December 24, 25 Christmas

  Did you know?
An important family event is the quinceanos, the party given to celebrate a childís 15th birthday, the year they achieve adulthood. Quinceanos, birthday parties and other events such as weddings often feature pinatas, hanging figurines stuffed with treats and batted until bursting by blindfolded guests.

  Did you know?
On Immaculate Conception (December 8) and the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe (December 12), people perform loas, short plays in which the Virgin defeats the devil.