In Guatemala, a long-standing tradition has been passed on from one generation to the next. Known as “Burning the Devil,” this tradition has been heralding Christmas for ages. Locals call this event “La Quema del Diablo.”
Burning the Devil
Every year on the 7th of December, at exactly 6:00 in the evening, Guatemalan families light up bonfires outside their homes and together take part in burning the “devil.”
Since the 18th century, this tradition has ushered in the feast of the Immaculate Conception. For Christians in Guatemala, this is one way to cleanse their homes before the coming of their Savior, attuned to the symbolism of Mary’s triumph over evil before she conceived Jesus.
The Immaculate Conception of Mary is celebrated by Christians all over the world every 8th of December. Of course, the typical way of marking this Christian holiday is through their eucharistic celebration. However, in Guatemala, they have one extra step in preparation for the feast day of the Immaculate Conception.
So how do Christians in Guatemala go through with burning the devil?
The answer lies in representation and symbolism.
Because of the belief that the devil lurks in the dark corners of the house and often in the rubbish, it became a tradition to take out all the garbage on the eve of the Immaculate Conception and burn it in a bonfire. Others would light up a string of lanterns to illuminate their homes.
Hand-in-hand with the concept that Mary has triumphed over evil, fire consuming a figure of the devil fits the representation perfectly.
Thus, families burning their garbage, lighting up lanterns, and blazing up an effigy of the devil in the spirit of their patron saint’s upcoming feast day has been the Guatemalan way of expressing their faith for centuries.
Burning the Devil: Antigua Style
While burning the devil through a pile of garbage is a marvel to watch, Antigua has a different approach to the festival.
People around the region gather to watch and cheer as a local artist-made devil effigy, not only goes out in flames but also with a lot of bangs and booms. That’s right, Antigua has taken it up a notch and decided to rig the fires with firecrackers.
With all the cheering and the firecrackers, burning the devil has become less than a feast and more of an expression of faith.