On December 7th in Guatemala, the process of house cleaning, organizing and disposing of trash and unwanted items culminates in a celebration at dusk known as La Quema del Diablo—the burning of the devil.
Folks build bonfires outside their homes, and burn the piles of trash and old furniture, as well as an effigy of Satan.
According to tradition and superstition, the devil lurks under the furniture and in the garbage, so by burning the household trash, as well as old tables and beds, the devil and all his evil spirits are eradicated. A plethora of firecrackers are also set off, of course. People here adore fireworks, the louder the better.
This early December tradition dates back to colonial times and thrives to this day. The biggest celebrations happen in Guatemala City and Antigua.
December 8th happens to be the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which is an important Catholic celebration. All the injustices of the previous year are forgiven through the devil-burning ritual, and the celebration of the Virgin Mary can begin the next day, without interference from Satan. As the story goes—the rich would adorn their homes with beautiful lanterns, while the poor would torch bonfires of garbage.
When the tradition started, it involved burning paper and wood—but over time, the trash piles began to contain more plastic and rubber. In 2008, the Guatemalan Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources released a statement about the dangers associated with bonfires containing these toxic materials. Most municipalities now ban bonfires.
Like most holidays, Quema del Diablo has become commercialized. Vendors line the city streets selling devil paraphernalia, like piñata effigies of Satan, which are then filled with firecrackers and set ablaze.
Even if we don’t literally burn the devil like they do in Guatemala, it is as good a reminder as any to take stock of what we can let go of. What no longer serves us? What can we get rid of? Surrender?
I am letting go of my attachment to expectations and plans.
I am letting go of my need to always be right.
I am letting go of unhealthy eating habits.
All this letting go—all this devil-burning—creates space for fresh seeds to be planted and for newness to be born.
Author: Michelle Margaret Fajkus
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Photo: Flickr/Towle N