Fiesta de la Virgen de la Asunción, Guatemala
Every year on August 15, Guatemala City celebrates its patroness with the Fiesta de la Virgen de la Asunción. It’s a fascinating tradition and a colorful expression of Guatemalan culture and history.
Although the origin of the festivity is religious, the celebration has grown into a much bigger festival that includes social, cultural, and gastronomic events.
Stay with me to learn all you need to know about the Fiesta de la Virgen de la Asunción, la Feria de Jocotenango, their main events, as well as their history and religious origins.
What is the Fiesta de la Virgen de la Asunción?
The Fiesta de la Virgen de la Asunción is a popular religious tradition that takes place in Guatemala on August 15 and celebrates “the bodily taking up of Mary, the mother of Jesus, into Heaven.”
In Guatemala City, the celebration is significant since la Virgen de la Asunción or “the Virgin of the Assumption” is the city’s patroness. During the Fiesta de la Virgen de la Asunción, the Jocotenango neighborhood transforms into a bustling place of religious activities, joyful celebrations, and cheerful performances.
According to the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, the Blessed Virgin Mary was conceived without the original sin of Adam and Eve like every other human in the world—as it would be impossible to consider the Mother of God to be a sinner.
Following this reasoning to its logical conclusion, Christians widely believed that the Virgin Mary couldn’t die like everybody else and had to be physically taken to Heaven, just like her son.
Although various Christian traditions have celebrated the Asunción de María (Assumption of the Virgin Mary) since the Middle Ages, it didn’t become an official Catholic celebration until November 1, 1950 (All Saints Day), when the Pope Pius XII proclaimed in the bull Munificentissimus Deus that:
“We pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”
A Brief History of La Virgen de la Asunción
In 1773, a strong earthquake destroyed the city of Antigua, which at the time was the capital of the Guatemalan territory under Spanish rule. A new capital city had to be built in a safer area. The Valle de la Ermita or Valley of the Hermitage was the chosen spot, and Guatemala City was founded there in 1776 with the full name, Nueva Guatemala de la Asunción (New Guatemala of the Assumption).
The new city set the date of its Fiesta Patronal (Patron Saint Festivities) for el 15 de agosto (August 15), which is when el Día de la Virgen de la Asunción (Day of the Virgin of the Assumption) is celebrated throughout the Catholic world.
However, another popular story says that in the Cerro El Calvario in a place known as Llamacancha, a farmer simply known as el niñito (the little boy) discovered an image of the Virgin Mary on a rock known as waca-watana. The villagers then decided to worship her with a festival on August 15th.
Fiesta de la Virgen de la Asunción
Now that we have explored the origen y festividad (origin and festivity), let’s learn about the tradiciones (traditions) that take place during the Fiesta de la Virgen de la Asunción in Guatemala City.
“The procession” is the main religious event that takes place in Guatemala on August 15. The image of Our Lady of the Assumption is walked through the streets of Zones 1 and 2 of the capital city of Guatemala, ending up at the historic center. Her final destination is la Catedral Metropolitana, the Metropolitan Cathedral.
A long parade of devotees follow the Virgin around the city commemorating her glorious rise to heaven. When the procession ends, the lucky ones with a seat inside the Cathedral attend the Mass that’s the culmination of the religious celebration. The rest get ready to start the Fiesta de la Virgen de la Asunción once the Mass is over.
Confraternities are groups of devotees who take care of the image of Our Lady of the Assumption and the anda (tableau) on top of which the Virgin is carried through the streets of Guatemala City.
Las cofradías are responsible for the image sculpture and take care of her robes, hair, skin, eyes, and posture. An interesting fact is that the image of the Virgen de la Asunción has real human hair, which is common for 16th and 17th century Guatemalan sculptures.
The anda gets an original design every year, but the main idea is to portray the idea of the Virgin’s rise to the heavens. It depicts her “floating” among clouds, angels, and cherubs.
The fair brings the actual “party” to the religious celebration. Located in the neighborhood of Jocotenango, la feria usually takes place for two weeks around August 15.
This is the place to visit to enjoy the delicious Guatemalan gastronomy, with exquisite delicacies such as caldo de gallina (hen soup), pepián (spicy stew), as well as traditional sweets and desserts like churros, plataninas, and garnachas.
La feria also features games and attractions, such as:
- la lotería – bingo
- tiro al blanco – target shooting
- el carrusel – carousel
- la noria – Ferris wheel
- los coches de choque – bumper cars
Calendar of Events
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Fiesta de la Virgen de la Asunción went virtual in 2020, and many of its traditional events had to be cancelled. For 2021, there’s still no official announcement by the authorities about how the procession and the fair will take place.
The events that are part of the celebration include:
- Procession in honor of Our Lady of the Assumption
- Serenade to the Virgin in the Cathedral
- Social, cultural, and sport events
- Firefighters parade
- Folklore dances:
- La Conquista (The Conquest)
- Gigantes o Cabezudos (Giants or Big-headed figures)
Visit Guatemala and Learn Spanish
Guatemala is a country with a rich history and an extraordinary culture that’s best appreciated in festivities such as the Fiesta de la Virgen de la Asunción. Guatemala City has a different feeling during the weeks that the Feria de Jocotenango is up and running in anticipation of the big religious celebration on August 15.
Traveling to Latin America to immerse yourself in its amazing culture is a great way to gain a better understanding of its language, which itself is a product of that culture. Learn Spanish before heading to Guatemala and make the most of your trip.
Sign up for a free class to practice your Spanish before your trip to Latin America. We offer flexible scheduling with certified, native-speaking teachers from Guatemala, who teach more than 24,000 actively enrolled Spanish students every month and have been doing it for over 10 years.
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