Each year, on the 7th December, all across Guatemala, towns set a devil on a stone and burn it until just ashes are left. In Antigua Guatemala, the biggest and closest town to where our volunteer base is, they place their devil between two gas stations, on the outskirts of town and people gather round at 6pm and watch the devil burn.
As the market stalls fill with paper-mâché devils for families to burn in their houses, and the buzz around town turns to talk about the burning of the devil, it makes me wonder why? Why burn a devil? Why on this date? And, why between two gas stations? (I don’t know if I can answer that last question!)
The tradition of burning the devil is an old tradition in anticipation of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the patron saint of Guatemala City. In previous times, those who could afford it decorated the fronts of their houses with lanterns. Those who couldn’t began gathering garbage and would burn that in front of their houses. A tradition that developed into the burning of the devil to clear the way for the feast, burning all the bad things of the previous year.
This year, things are a little different in Antigua. Disappointed with the new female mayor that took over control of the town this year, the devil has been turned into a female devil (La Diabla) and has been dressed up to look just like her, the idea being that they can show their dissatisfaction of her decisions in local Government by burning her. Seems a little harsh don’t you think?
However, female or male devil, at 6pm across Guatemala devils will be burning in all the little towns, clearing the path for Mary and a New Year!