Traditional Burning of the Devil in Antigua, Guatemala
An Annual Event in Guatemala
As shrapnel from exploding firecrackers hit my face and head, I ducked behind a food vendor’s table. I wasn’t prepared for the blinding, 30-foot high flames and deafening pop of firecrackers as the effigy of the devil was set ablaze in Antigua, Guatemala.
I had come here to photograph the annual Quema del Diablo (Burning of the Devil) celebration on December 7th. This event marks the official beginning of the Christmas season in Guatemala. According to tradition, the Devil lurks in garbage, under beds and furniture. The burning of trash and unwanted objects thus cleanses the house of evil and starts the year anew.
“As a kid, we burnt trash under electrical wires, hoping the rubber would drop and spark,” explains Julio Bell, manager of Hotel Sor Juana. Fortunately for Antigua’s phone company, most residents now participate in the large, communal ritual held in the Barrio Concepcion. This Antigua neighborhood lies on the outskirts of the city, and hosts the celebration of the Immaculate Conception the very next day.
The Devil Meets His Fate In Guatemalan Culture
Arriving an hour early, I had assured myself a front-row vantage point for the always crowded event. The street leading up to the plaza was lined with food vendors grilling chicken, beef, and other traditional Guatemalan foods. Several vendors also hawked mixed alcoholic drinks and beer. The large statue of the devil rested on a pedestal in the middle of the street, his ten-inch long fangs menacing the passersby below.
In preparation for the burning, two men on a ladder packed the evil statue with wood chips and firecrackers, finally dousing him with several cans of gasoline. An elderly woman approached, placed a note at the devil’s feet, and shook her fist in defiance as she briskly walked away.
The Devil is Set Ablaze
Following a countdown from the crowd, the devil was torched, and burst into bright yellow and white flames. As exploding firecrackers hurtled through the air, spectators ducked and covered their ears. The crowd cheered as the devil was ultimately reduced to ashes, and the bomberos (firefighters) were called in to extinguish the blaze. As they sprayed water on the smoldering beast, a man angrily approached and cursed them for soaking his meat sizzling on a cart just steps away.
Walking back to my hotel, I felt a sense of relief that the devil had met his fate. I was struck with the nagging thought however, that perhaps I should check under my bed.
Written By Ralph Quinonez