The tradition of “Burning the Devil” in Guatemala

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 furniture or hiding under the bed.

If you have respiratory problem you would do well to leave the city at this time as the air is thick with smoke.

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. With an estimated 500,000 bonfires blazing over the course of an hour in the capital city alone, the effects on the environment are troubling.

The tradition has special significance in Guatemala City because of its anticipation of Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the patron saint of the city. 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.

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.

“It’s a very special day because it marks the official start of the Christmas season,” says Miguel Alfredo Álvarez, a historian specializing in Guatemala City. “Families come together after the burning to eat buñuelos, traditional donuts, and drink warm fruit punch.”

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