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Guatemala: The Tradition of Burning the Devil

Photo by Denise Phé-Funchal and used with permission.

Vibrant neighborhoods covered with lights with children playing around in the streets because school is on vacation, and one knows Christmas is in the air. The mixure of religious and pagan traditions also come together on December of each year.

On December 7, especially in urban areas, the tradition is to “burn the devil”, as Desde Guate [es] described for us:

El 7 de diciembre se celebra en Guatemala una tradición muy arraigada que llena de fuego las calles y de humo el cielo. Se trata de la tradicional quema del diablo, a través de la cual los ciudadanos expulsan todo lo malo de sus casas y sus vidas, en otras palabras, este personaje es el rostro de todo lo que es visto como negativo (mala suerte en el trabajo, amor, salud, etc).

On December 7 a deeply rooted tradition takes place in Guatemala , where the streets are filled with bonfires and the sky is covered by smoke. It is the traditional burning of the devil, which is a way to expel all the evil from people's houses and lives. In other words, this character is the face of all the negative things (bad luck at work, in health, in love, etc.)

On his post The hell with it! blogger El Toronteco recycled and translated anold post of blogger Ronald Flores [es], who captured the essence of the experience of “burning the evil”:

Me han dicho que quemar esta ensarta de cachivaches y papelejos era hacer que el diablo ardiera en sus propias llamaradas, que era necesario para entrar a la época navideña con la casa limpia. En ese contexto, confieso que he practicado más de una vez este interesante rito de purificación. He lanzado a las llamas cuadernos de clases que durante el año aborrecí, cartas de amores fallidos y de reproches que recibí o que escribí sin enviar, fotografías en las que no salí como quise, manuscritos de novelas sobre las que ya jamás pienso volver.

Me gustaba, en el frío de diciembre, acercar el rostro y las manos a las llamas, ir deshojando los cuadernos, ver cómo el papel se consumía y las letras que resaltaban sobre la blanca hoja se iban difuminando en la negra tinta de la ceniza. Hoy pienso hacer algo similar, aunque distinto. Voy a salir a la calle al final del día. Voy a sacar los rencores todos, los que he venido acumulando durante este último año, las envidias todas, los dolores todos y les voy a hacer arder en la hoguera de vanidades que ando arrastrando torpe e inútilmente conmigo.

I've been told that burning that pile of trinkets and useless printed material made the devil burn on his very own inferno, and that this custom was necessary to begin the Christmas season with a clean home. Within that context, I confess that I have practiced more than once this interesting purification ritual. I have thrown to the flames notebooks from subjects I detested during the year, letters from unsuccessful loves and reproaches that I have received or that I have written without sending, pictures where I didn't come up as I wanted, manuscripts of novels that I will never touch again.

I have enjoyed, on the cold of December, putting my hands and face close to the flames, and tear apart the pages from notebooks, observe how paper was consumed and the writing that popped out from the white paper vanished under the growing black ink of the ashes. Today I plan to do something similar, though different. I am going out onto the streets at the end of the day. I am going to take all the resentments, those that I have accumulated throughout the past year, all the envies, all the pains and I am going to make them burn in the bonfire of vanities that I keep carrying around uselessly.

The blog Manra [es] describes why the season is special:

El diablo ya fue quemado a estas horas, ahora es ceniza nada más, espero que en esas llamas se hayan ido por un rato al menos nuestras penas, nuestros sufrimientos, que este frío nos traiga vientos nuevos, nuevas vibras.

The devil is gone now, all that is left are just ashes, and I hope that our sufferings and pain have left with the flames, and the cold weather might bring new winds, new vibes.

The funny blog Los Tragos [es] even suggested a drink for the day: Satan.

Ingredientes

1 oz. de Hesperdina (Aperitivo elaborado con corteza de naranjas)
1/2 oz. de Ginebra
1/2 oz. de Whisky
1/2 oz. de Tequila
1/2 oz. de Ron
1/2 oz. de Vodka
Granadina
Hielo

Preparación

A un vaso agregar la Hesperdina, la Ginebra , el Whisky, el Tequila,y el Ron; luego la Granadina y por último el vodka prendiéndole fuego. Tomar lo más rápido que se pueda :)

Ingredients

1 oz. of Hesperdina (aperitif made with orange peels)
1/2 oz. of Gin
1/2 oz. of Whiskey
1/2 oz. of Tequila
1/2 oz. of Rum
1/2 oz. of Vodka
Grenadine
Ice

Preparation

In a glass add the Hesperdina, gin, Whiskey, Tequila, Rum; and later the Grenadine and at the end the Vodka and light it on fire. Drink it as fast as you can :)

Now the devil is gone with the smoke, the streets are still covered with lights and fireworks at nights. The days are amazing with brilliant blue sky, and you can see any of the 33 volcanoes of Guatemala without clouds and the smell of Christmas time.

2 comments

  • Hola Renata! No conocía de estra tradición…gracias por ilustrarnos. Por otro lado, ese drink of the day con la mezcolanza de alcohol que lleva, definitívamente que logrará que quien se lo tome reaccione con una combustión espontanea! jeje

  • Thank you for mentioning my “recycled” posting! Nice post with different aspects of this misunderstood tradition. Great job in trying to translate different aspects of our Guatemalan culture, is never easy, but we all contribute to spreading the word about our motherland’s beauty.

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