Globe, Latin America, Lifestyle, Ludotheque

Guatemala: exorcising its demons



Dolls, made to look like the Devil, and waste lying in the houses of the Guatemalans burn as a symbol of purification to celebrate the victory of Good over Evil.


Guatemala- exorcizando3Randy Saborit Mora


According to the religious and pagan belief, besides the burning, one must spray the corners of houses with holy water and sweep them every 7th of December from six in the evening so that Lucifer is sent to Hell.

The origin of the ceremony dates back to the 16th Century during the colonial age. It is carried out on the eve of the procession of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, a rite that opens the Christmas celebrations in Guatemala in honour of the birth of Jesus Christ on the 25th of December.

For historian Celso Lara, who specialises in popular traditions, the fire signifies the light of the Virgin and her victory over the demon. In his opinion, this ancient practice is one of the most significant of this Central American country.

According to Miguel Álvarez, the chronicler of Guatemala City, it will be very difficult to eliminate a tradition as old as the Burning of the Devil because of its popular roots and profound symbolism.

Guatemala- exorcizando 2He recalled that in the middle of the last century, the president from 1958 to 1963, Miguel Ydígoras, tried to prohibit the fires, but the people simply continued regardless.

The nation’s main city seems to succumb amid the various fires, stoked by people with discarded objects, paper, straw, branches cardboard and dry leaves.

The nocturnal spectacle is impressive when individuals reduce a red coloured figure with cans, tail and trident, representing Hell, to ashes.

Also, the burning of “little devils” has become popular, made in so called “piñaterías”, centres that distribute them throughout the country. The sales of “little devils” increase prior to the commemoration. The prices fluctuate between 10 quetzals ($1.25) to 1500 quetzals ($189), depending on the size and design of the artisan painters’ works.

Exposici—nThe Devil and the bonfires are burnt at the edge of the pavement, while some citizens throw fireworks, which tinge the dramatic act on one of the nights of greatest release of pollutant particles into the atmosphere, according to measurements from the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources.

Ecologist groups express their criticisms due to the pollution caused during these celebrations, which lives on also in the colonial city of Antigua Guatemala, 45 kilometres to the west of the capital, and other locations.

During the festivities, the burning of plastics, rubber and other materials that generate toxic gases and could cause respiratory disease and the like, is prohibited. According to the ministerial agreement 332-2004, those who burn vehicle tyres in private and public places will be punished with fines from1000 quetzals ($127) up to 5000 quetzals ($633).

The National Environment Commission maintains an informative campaign which encourages those who live in the capital to not burn oilcloths, plastics and other materials which cause high rates of pollution.

On this date the emergency services ask for the avoidance of gasoline for starting bonfires and so prevent accidents from burns.

Guatemala- exorcizando 9The municipal fire fighters recommend not carrying out ignitions in vacant lots or gas stations.

Additionally, the Guatemalan Electrical Company, S.A., suggests to adults to keep an eye on children, not put fires under power lines, control the height of the flames, not burn bottles or sprayer, and t make sure that the pyre burns out totally.

Despite the insistent calls to be cautious, this day always brings incidents during the celebration of this custom, which some Protestant Christians observe apprehensively, since they consider it a satanic worship.

Guatemala- exorcizando2Beyond this observation, what is certain is that Satan has been a repeated antagonist in stories, theatre, prayer, legends and dances characteristic of the baptized earth of quetzal.

Although allegorically, the Guatemalans expel the Devil from their homes in search of spiritual purification before starting the New Year, it would be timely to consider the words of the Metropolitan Archbishop, Oscar Julio Vian, in this regard. The important thing is to expel it from within each Christian with prayer and hymns. The fires are a symbol because “from where we have to remove the Devil is inside of ourselves,” opined the religious authority figure. (PL)


(Translated by Ollie Phelan – Email:

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