Tuesday, December 10, 2013

La Quema del Diablo - Burn Devil Burn

Every December 7th at 6 o'clock sharp, Guatemalans set fire to piles of trash, pyres of wood and hundreds of thousands of little devil piñatas. Rich or poor, city or country folk, it doesn't matter, it's a family tradition to have a bonfire and a unique Guatemalan festivity we didn't want to miss.

The holiday is called la quema del diablo or the burning of the devil and it signifies the cleansing of the house and the readying of the family for the winter holiday - out with the old evil spirits, in with the new good spirits of Christmas. What started in colonial times with fires along the streets to light the way for the procession of the Virgen de Concepción, morphed over the years into a symbolic battle of good and evil. The diablo is an important figure in Mayan mysticism and it was easy for them to translate the physical reduction of trash to ashes into a ritual that represents the devil being banished back to his fiery hell. In a city of millions the pollution is a problem on December 7th and the mayor asked his subjects to refrain from burning trash. As usual, this request was ignored, the people would have their holiday, the devil must not prevail!

Our Devil Burn included a couple 3-foot tall colorful tissue paper devils, some fireworks and after-burn S'mores - equaling a pretty amazing Saturday evening.

Hubby and I have been fortunate to have met some really cool friends over the last month of living in Guatemala City including some fun locals who happen to have a gorgeous little lake house on the shores of Lake Atitlan. They invited us out to celebrate Quema del Diablo in the peace and quiet of their cozy cabin. We had an amazing time and celebrated the first of what we hope are many more Quemas to come. What a freakin' fun holiday! I can't wait to do this every year.

Their lake house has no roads to it and is absolutely adorable. It's rustic and comfortable, built into the hillside using native rocks and wood with a sloping green lawn for a beach and a private dock. We took their motor boat out for cruises, swam in the clear, deliciously chilly water, paddled their kayaks and grilled up some amazing wood-fired food.

At 18:00 sharp we stuffed some fireworks in the first devil's belly, doused the little dude in gasoline and lit him up. EPIC. I love fireworks. (And it's a good thing I do because we hear them every day in the city and all through the night, including the 5am morning flash-bomb wake-up call.) Little Lucifer burned for about 3 seconds before exploding in a popping mess of firecrackers that shot flaming bits of tissue paper into the air. Devil number 2 got burned with the same "bomba" just like the petite Mayan lady at the diablo stall in the market recommended. "You want to put a bomb inside him for a good boom" she said, with an impish little sparkle in her eye.

Driving back to the city we felt cleansed. Whether it was from the fresh air at the lake, the ab-burning laughter around the fire with friends, or from our primal screams while we watched the little devils turn to ashes under the star-filled sky, the weekend worked wonders for letting off a little holiday stress.

After thousands if not millions of fires on Saturday night I was worried that we would be returning to skies so brown the volcanoes around the city would be obscured by pollution. But aside from the normal eye-watering exhaust from the buses, the city air was no worse than usual. It seems mother nature had ordered up some wind and rain to help wash away the by-product of the burn.

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