The Tradition of the Canchules

Verónica Aguilar6a0120a608aa53970c01b7c8487081970b-120wi

Early Childhood Care and Development Officer

Save the Children in El Salvador

April 27, 2016

I’ve been in charge of the sponsorship impact area in Nahuizalco for a year now and since have been given the opportunity to witness firsthand the many traditions and festivities of my country that I otherwise had not been a part of. The people I work with in our sponsorship communities are always inviting me to the many important celebrations they have.

An altar to honor the dead, as is tradition during the Canchules Festival in Nahuizalco, El Salvador

Last year, I attended a very special tradition called the Canchules Festival. In the now almost extinct language of our ancestors, canchules literally means ‘demonstration of the cooked,’ or could also be interpreted as ‘an offering of food’. It is celebrated every November 1st across the whole municipality. On this day, people make altars to honor the lives of their loved ones who have passed. Families lay out offerings of prepared meals, usually their relatives’ favorite dishes, fruit and handmade sweets. Altars are decorated with colorful paper, flowers and photos of their departed family members.

The tradition welcomes visitors, both locals and foreigners, to visit each altar and take some food. However to do so, they must first say this prayer: “We’re angels from heaven and we come to ask for canchules to continue our journey.” In exchange for the food, the owner of the altar can impose a small penance on the visitor, such as asking they say another prayer, run, dance or even tell a joke.

On this day, both children and adults walk the streets with a bag to keep the food they collect as they visit each altar. One can also see women wearing refajos, a fabric wrapped tightly around the body to make a skirt, the traditional garb of this culture.

People also may visit cemeteries to pray and place flowers on the tombs of their deceased family members. Some community members even bring the altars to the cemetery and place their food and beverage offerings right on top of the tombs!

This is a tradition to be enjoyed with the entire family and to remember times spent with the loved ones who have passed. The Canchules Festival has some similarities with the globally-recognized Day of the Dead celebrated in Mexico, but what makes this tradition special for the people of Nahuizalco is the small prayer one has to say in order to receive some tasty food.

Women wearing refajos, the traditional garb of Nahuizalco, while visiting the altars during the festival

We are very proud of this tradition and preserve it from generation to generation. Children in particular enjoy this day by collecting as many offerings as they can and also by seeing their friends pay the small penances!

In all of El Salvador, as in other Latin American countries, the first two days of November are centered around honoring the dead, but with variations in each region. However, Nahuizalco is the only place in El Salvador to celebrate the tradition of canchules.

What traditions do you have to honor loved ones that have passed? Do you memorialize them in a special way in your culture or with your close family members? We would love to hear about your personal ways to celebrate and honor the departed.

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