Yesterday marked another Guatemalan first – my first Day of the Devil! You may be wondering what this scary sounding event entails. Mainly, and not surprisingly, lots of fire. And actually, not much more than fire.
Everyone piles up refuse from their land (mainly dead corn stalks and sticks, though a good deal of paper makes it into the fire as well) and at 6 pm on the dot (one of the only instances I’ve ever witnessed Guatemalans being punctual) you light it on fire. And then you throw fireworks into the pile. And then you light fireworks and throw them in every direction. And then you run around with sparklers. Why? Well, when I asked my host sister about the significance of the holiday, all I got was, “It’s the Day of the Devil. You burn whatever.” Very insightful.
Thankfully, the ever helpful Nuestro Diario managed leave murder and ladies in bikinis off one page of their publication this week to print a small history of the holiday. The tradition dates back to colonial times. Well to do families would place a lantern outside their home in preparation for the feast of the Immaculate Conception and families of lesser means made do by burning piles of trash. This (though it’s not clear how) evolved into the current tradition. Basically, it’s an act to signify purification and many people even place a paper devil at the top of their pile to add to the spectacle. You burn up all of the bad from the past year and are able to start anew from the ashes.
Not sure where the fireworks and sparklers play into all that, but it does add to the overall feeling of festivity.
Clockwise from top-left: My host sister with the pile pre burn, the quema in full swing, sparklers!, yes that is a child lighting the fire and what happens when you throw fireworks into a dying bonfire.