The burning of the devil

December is by far the most anticipated month of the year in various parts of the world, and Guatemala is no exception. Among the most important celebrations of the month is the traditional Burning of the Devil.

Historically, the festivities are said to have originated in religious celebrations dedicated to the Virgen de la Concepción which took to the streets in a rezado procession (a small procession with prayers and songs), and the locals would light the way with small fires to burn away any evil spirits.

Starting promptly at 6 PM every year on December 7th, in front of houses across the country, paper, wood, old junk, and other flammable materials are removed from homes and burned. Some people know the origins of this tradition and hope for the purification of their homes, while others just follow the time-honored custom of the celebration.

In recent years, after a serious discussion arose about whether or not to promote this family activity – given that this day has the highest levels of pollution recorded in the country (because of the smoke from many materials, like plastic, that are not suitable for burning) – Guatemala’s ingenuity proved itself with the creation of an alternative: the famous birthday piñatas have taken on a new role by being made in the shape of humorous little devils. These are made using only a little paper and so are suitable for burning without causing any major complications. However, it should be noted that in many parts of the country, people still burn wood, paper, and other household goods in order to purify their homes.

Another variant which continues to gain popularity is the construction of a community statue of a devil – made of wood and cardboard, much like a piñata – which is then set on fire. La Antigua Guatemala has welcomed this alternative, and the festivities are celebrated in the Barrio de la Concepción at the exit of the city on 4a Calle Oriente, accompanied by music, food stalls, lots of people, and security.

The Burning of the Devil is one of the most attended community events of the year in La Antigua and one of the few that starts right on time, so if you’re going to attend, don’t be late!


Photo by: Sofía Letona


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