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Burning the Year Away: New Year Traditions

Categories: Latin America, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Arts & Culture, Religion

Hugo Chávez dummyIn many South American countries, it has become a tradition to burn human shaped representations of the previous year, as a way to get rid of everything bad that the year brought, and leave way for the new. The following videos show some of these traditions and some of the controversy soome of them have sparked. The image above [1] is from cirofono [2] and represents Venezuela's President, Hugo Chávez. The image is used according to Creative Commons Attribution License.

In Guatemala, the burning takes place in December, on the 7th, the day when they state that the virgin defeated the devil. What they do is burn everything old, broken and useless in their houses, since they believe that the devil hides in those objects throughout the year, and on that day, when he is the weakest, they can cast him out of the houses. Many others, however, purchase piñatas or effigies of the devil to burn, to keep the tradition. The following video [3] shows one of the bonfires with a devil figure placed on top:

The following video is in English [4] where the story behind the burning of the devil is told, and a new perspective on the burning is brought up: there is concern that the ritual is harmful to the environment because people burn much of the waste in their homes, regardless of the material, and another controversy is brought up: in spite that Guatemala is mainly Catholic, Evangelical Christians believe that the burning is in fact adoration of effigies”, and believe it is a pagan ritual that shouldn't take place.

In Ecuador the figures are burnt on New Year's Eve, and are not limited to being shaped like a devil, but can take many different appearances. Some are made out of old clothes stuffed with wood chips, newspaper and other flammable material, others are made out of papier mache and cardboard. Most are inspired by television or movie characters as you can see on this video [5]where lizgaba [6] takes to the streets to record the different “año viejo” dolls available for purchase:

In Ecuador, not only is the figure representing the old year burnt, but young men take to the streets dressed as widows crying over the dead year and some even asking for money. In the next video [7] by MegaSans [8], a tour of the city of Quito, Ecuador shows the different dolls as well as the widows:

In Colombia, in the city of Mocoa in Putumayo, there is a parade where the alegorical Old Year dummies are formed into tableaus, or are made to represent what happened in the previous year. After the parade, humorous last wills and testaments from the dying year are read and at midnight, people burn their old year dummies, as you will see in the following video [9]:

How is the year sent off where you are from?