The Disappearance of the Burning of the Devil Tradition in Guatemala

Burning of the Devil in Guatemala

Okay, let me break the bad news to you guys. The Burning of the Devil tradition in Guatemala is disappearing. Even though, I read a couple articles about La quema del diablo (Burning of the Devil) in the national newspapers, when I finally decided to go out to the streets to photograph the celebration, I could not find anything bigger than small fogatas (bon fires). I even asked around to the people in the community and they told me it was not celebrated like it used to by the gone-by elders.

Even Iván Mendoza who goes by the nickname of Diciembre7 and uses a burning devil as an avatar twitted about the disappearance:

la quema del diablo es una tradición, no la podes quitar de la noche a la mañana, aunque en los últimos 5 años casi desaparecio…

The burning of the devil is a tradition, you can not do without over night, although in the past 5 years it almost disappeared.

I guess that La Antigua Guatemala remains as one of the few places where you can meet with hundreds of people willing to Burn the Devil and the bad spirits in cleansing ceremony through purifying power of fire. The idea of the La quema del diablo celebration was to get rid of the devil, the bad spirits, the bad vibes and anything negative that may interfere with the celebrations of Nacimientos (Nativity Scenes), Posadas (Quest for Shelter [Español/English verses]) and Christmas celebration which begin officially with the Feast for the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th.

© 2008 – 2016, Rudy Girón. All rights reserved.

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  • Erick

    I remember growing up in Guatemala City (early 80s) and the “quema del diablo” was fun because people were burning branches, logs, etc. Kids would also get started with the fireworks. Once I got older (mid-80s) people were burning tires (actual car tires), trash, and their old/unwanted belongings, so it started to create a horrible smell and it lost its spark (no pun intended), which might be one of the reasons why the tradition has become close to extinct.

  • cynthia s

    I had never heard of the quema del diablo until I was in Guatemala last year
    around this time. Interestingly, I caught a brief report on NPR’s “Morning Edition” today about the tradition. Government officials are upset about all of the pollution caused by fires. Here is the link if you would like to listen.

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=97933341

  • Bea

    I grew up in Guatemala and of course I was part of “the burning of the devil”, but I am glad that the tradition is disappearing, not because I’m against traditions in Guatemala, but because it is an awful and polluting tradition. I think the tradition should be modified a little bit converting it to a less polluting one.
    Thanks for the memories!

  • MO

    I blame it on the few crazy neighbors on the block who were too lazy to collect fire wood, sticks, dry monte (you know, normal stuff you build fires with) but had to burn tires and trash. The few ruined it for the many. I lived in Guatemala in the 60/70’s and back in those days everyone in the hood used to participate in the burning of the devil. It was great.

  • MO

    Error 404 – Page Not Found – When I try to post comment on today’s post 12/08.

  • @Eric, certainly the tradition of La quema del diablo is not what used to be.

    @Cynthia, thanks for sharing the link to NPR’s note on the Burning of the Devil with us. I find it interesting that Guatemalan traditions are not getting air time on National Public Radio. Cool!

    @Bea, Eric and MO, there’s a movement to celebrate the Burning of the Devil in a more ecological manner. Check out last year coverage:

    http://antiguadailyphoto.com/2007/12/07/the-ecological-way-to-celebrate-the-burning-of-the-devil-in-guatemala/

  • Claudia

    Nothing worse than the smell (not to mention pollution) of burning tires. . . . disgusting. We would burn monte and basura, but I think it was fun to go around the neighborhood and check out other people’s devil burning. . . 🙂

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