Burning the Devil or La Quema del Diablo is a tradition held every December 7, at 6:00 in the evening sharp, families build bonfires outside their homes and burn effigy of Satan. It is a tradition that many Guatemalans take part as a way to cleanse their home from devils that lurk in their home, creeping behind the furnitures or hiding under the bed.
La quema del diablo can be traced to colonial time, a tradition that started since the 18th century. Held on the eve of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and as a prelude to holiday season, those who could afford it adorned the fronts of their houses with lanterns, but for those who have lesser means began bonfires of their garbage to celebrate the occasion. A symbolical tradition that the fire which burns the devil serves as purifying element, as the Virgin Mary was the blessed one to conceive baby Jesus must be free from any form of evil, therefore the event served as “burning the devil” to clear the way for Mary’s feast.
Though the celebration may sound fun, it is controversial especially for the environmentalist groups. Back in the days, mostly paper were burned in the cleansing ritual, but now, the piles of rubbish are mostly made of plastic and rubber. The Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources released a widely publicized statement in 2008 warning that one hour of bonfires containing rubber and plastic is equal to the carbon dioxide produced by a million and a half cars in circulation at the same time. Over time the tradition evolved, from burning piles of garbage and pieces of furniture were replaced by the effigy of Satan in a form of piñatas.
The tradition has special significance in Guatemala City because of its anticipation of Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the patron saint of the city. Along the street of Zona 1, the historic city center, many vendors piled the street selling stuffs associated with la quema del diablo, from firecrackers to simple and intricate devil piñatas. In different sectors of the city, people celebrates and burns their own devil piñatas. The idea is to burn all the bad from the previous year and to start anew from the ashes. Throughout the country, The Devil is burned at the stroke of six. In Antigua, the first former capital of the country, a devil three stories tall is constructed and burned in the city square. A controversial tradition yet very significant among Guatemalans, a hope of devil free nation, of a harmonious Guatemala. A hope that in the coming year it would be more than just a removed vision.
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