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December 07, 2005

La Quema del Diablo

Well, it's that time of year in Guatemala again!

The poinsettia bushes are in full bloom with their brilliant scarlet flowers and deep green leaves...

There's a chill in the early-morning air, and the stars twinkle bright at night...

Colored lights decorate the homes, and Christmas trees appear in the living rooms...

Holiday songs provide the soundtrack as the malls fill with shoppers...

And on every street corner, you find that pot-bellied guy in the red suit...

I'm referring, of course, to the devil.

La Quema del Diablo - The Burning of the DevilWhat?!?!

I'm sorry if visions of sugar plums were just dashed from your heads, but every year.. in the midst of the Christmas season... Guatemalans give the devil his due.

Popular tradition holds that throughout the year, the devil hides in the corners and dark places of a house, weaseling his way into old papers and garbage and dust... thereby bringing bad luck to the home.

So every December 7th Guatemalans clean house and gather up discarded boxes, old newspapers... even dust from underneath the beds... and build a huge, highly-combustible mound in front of their homes.

An optional paper-mache Satan (a Prince of Darkness piņata, if you will) is added to the pile and, at exactly 6pm, the whole unholy heap is set on fire.

And that's how Guatemala celebrates "La Quema del Diablo", or the Burning of the Devil, by which Satan is swept from our homes and sent straight back to H-e-double-toothpicks.

It is a uniquely Guatemalan holiday!

Tonight, in the midst of the burning bonfires and flaming Satans, I watched young children running with golden sparklers and teenagers shooting whistling rockets into the smoky night sky. Older family members poked at the flames to keep the fires lit, and young couples sneaked quick kisses in the shadows (which is ok, I guess, now that the devil isn't around.)

Some environmentalists have demanded that the "Quema del Diablo", a tradition dating back to the 18th century, now be banned. And I suppose they have a point: the simultaneous burning of thousands of mounds of trash is probably not the healthiest of activities for a city. (Especially an already oxygen-challenged city such as Guate.)

But I don't know. Somehow the "Pointing of Bright Flashlights at the Devil", for example, just wouldn't have the same impact, now would it?

I, for one, absolutely loved the sense of community and camaraderie kindled by tonight's fire-bright festival.

More importantly: in a holiday season that is already overwhelmed by the crass and commercial, I think it's healthy to take a moment to symbolically eliminate the evil that dwells in our homes and in our hearts.

And it's never a bad idea to sweep under the bed, either.

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Posted by elcanche at December 7, 2005 10:36 PM
Comments

Nicely written, Rob! You added a smile to our morning. I am afraid if we tried our hand at that tradition, our bonfire might set the woods on fire and burn down half of Albemarle county!

Posted by: susan at December 8, 2005 06:12 AM

Rob: I liked this journal entry a lot, especially this part....More importantly: in a holiday season that is already overwhelmed by the crass and commercial, I think it's healthy to take a moment to symbolically eliminate the evil that dwells in our homes and in our hearts. Some people just don't get the true reason for the season, but I know you get it. Love, Marisa

Posted by: Marisa at December 8, 2005 06:33 AM

You just started my day with a smile too. Thanks!

Posted by: Mom at December 8, 2005 07:52 AM

I'm writing this from jail. I decided it was a lovely idea, and joined in. Funny, it seems there's a ban on burning within city limits here. I even showed the officer my George W. pinata explaining the need to get rid of the devil....he was not amused.

Posted by: Karla at December 8, 2005 08:29 AM
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