Written by: Tessa, contributor
Ever since I arrived in Pana three months ago, I’ve been hearing about the famous feria. Anticipation for the annual town fair was killing me as I watched my neighborhood slowly transform into an unrecognizable place filled with booths housing cantinas, arcade games, foosball tables, bingo and street vendors lined up selling bargain clothes, shoes, comida chatarra and traditional snacks in tiny pop-up stalls lining the streets.
Normally calm streets began to bustle with people and I wondered where they were all coming from! Apparently people travel from near and (kinda) far to join in the celebrations since Pana is a relatively large town for the region.
Photo by Ligia Gomez
Feria is celebrated October 4th for Pana’s patron saint, Saint Francis of Assisi. Besides Christmas and Holy Week festivities, Feria is the biggest celebration of the year here in our small town. Kids have off almost the entire week of school so they can enjoy the fair and represent their school in the parades. Everyone is out on the town for the holiday, paseando and enjoying the traditional cumbia bands performing in the main plaza in front of the church.
Feria is a time for the community to both proudly celebrate our town and remember its rich history. This Catholic church dates back to the colonization of the region, when the Spanish used both military might and cultural assimilation (read: religion) to subdue the native Tzutujil population. People dressed in elaborate costumes performed an interpretation of the European conquest of Mayan lands:
At night, the plaza becomes bomba (fireworks!) central. Firecrackers zoom around the perimeter of the plaza on cables, just a meter above the heads of people in the crowd below.
A little too close for comfort if you ask this gringa
Three months living in Guatemala I have yet to understand bombas--the fireworks that don’t produce any light, just loud explosions. Seriously, if you don’t know what you’re hearing you’d think it was a bomb. They go off on a daily basis; I’ve been told that it’s a common way to celebrate birthdays. But they’ve been going off every hour for two weeks straight (since the Independence celebration last month), and continued until 4 a.m. the night of Feria itself.
For a few nights, they also set off impressive firework right from the center of town (see how close they are to the ferris wheel?!). I enjoyed the short shows from the safety of my apartment’s balcony:
My first feria certainly lived up to all the hype! I was especially struck by how the rest of the town shut down so that everyone could attend the festivities. People here work extra hard--every day I see them, from little kids to fragile-looking old people, hustling to help support their families. It often comes from a place of necessity, yet I admire how no matter how hard they work, they respect that it shouldn’t infringe on time spent with the people you love. It’s something that we as Americans know to be true but don’t always put into practice. A little reminder now and then doesn’t hurt ✨
Photo by Ligia Gomez