The “quema del diablo” is the burning of the devil, celebrated every Dec 7 in Guatemala.
The weeks before December 7th, market stalls all over Guatemala fill with papier–mâché devils for people who want to personally show the devil his due.
The original tradition of burning the devil began in colonial times in anticipation of the feast of the Immaculate Conception – the patron of Guatemala City. Those who could afford it adorned the fronts of their houses with lanterns. Eventually, the poor who could not afford such lanterns began gathering their garbage and would burn all of the year’s rubbish in front of their houses. Over time it was formalized and in addition to individual piles of garbage, communities started to burn The Devil to clear the way for Mary’s feast.
Guatemalans still perform a ritual of cleansing with a day devoted to “Burning the Devil”.
Contemporary belief is it that the devil lurks under beds and furniture as well as in the garbage, so it is important to clean homes and get rid of devil. Small piles of paper are placed in front of homes and are lit on fire at 6pm. The idea is to burn all of the bad from the previous year and to start anew from the ashes. Firecrackers are lit in a smoky and noisy barrage of excitement to rid the old and welcome in the Christmas season.
In cities throughout the country the Devil is burned at the stroke of six. In Ciudad Vieja, the first former capital of the country, a devil three stories tall is constructed and burned in the city square. In the neighboring town of Antigua, the devil is dressed representing a contemporary political issue with a written message for all to read with his burning resolving whatever the issue was. The Devil’s dreams are also the dreams of millions of Guatemalans who may have wanted things to be better or different.
The idea of the La quema del diablo celebration was to get rid of the devil, the bad spirits, the bad vibes and anything negative that may interfere with the celebrations of Nacimientos (Nativity Scenes), Posadas (Quest for Shelter ) and the Christmas season which officially begins with the Feast for the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th.
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