The Burning of the Devil


Every December 7th, right before the day of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, it is quite common for Guatemalan to purify their homes and spirits by burning the devil. Somewhat literally. The way this is done is by buying a devil-shaped piñata, putting it outside along with a bunch of trash, and setting the whole thing ablaze at precisely 6pm. Some people go a little further and toss in a bunch of fireworks just to make the whole thing a little bit more dramatic.

“It is well-known that people burn the devil in order to purify their homes to receive the Immaculate Conception,” says the President of the Committee of Events of Barrio La Concepción in La Antigua Guatemala, Vitolio Contreras. “In Antigua, we thought about celebrating an ecological burning of the Devil.”

The devil in La Antigua Guatemala. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

Instead of having everyone burn their devil-piñatas and piles of trash out in the streets, polluting the environment and making moving through the streets of La Antigua more difficult than it already is, the people of Barrio Concepción figured that it would be better if they just burned one big devil by the fountain there. “The objective was to gather all of the families of La Antigua in one spot so that they wouldn’t set up their bonfires right outside their house,” explains Mr. Contreras.

This tradition of La Antigua Guatemala began precisely 25 years ago today. According to Mr. Contreras, between 6000 and 7000 spectators show up every year to watch an elaborate image of the devil being set on fire. Normally, the statue is that of a male devil and sometimes features satirical details in reference to local public figures. However, the devil was portrayed as a bare-chested woman this year, and it caused a bit of a stir.

A street vendor with devil horns in La Antigua Guatemala. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

The creator of this year’s devil was Isaac Juárez, a local artist best known for creating the ornaments that go on top of processions during La Antigua’s world-famous Holy Week celebrations. Mr. Juárez originally designed the devil to convey the idea that evil takes many forms. People, however, only saw a half-naked she-devil and that was upsetting for some. It was eventually removed by the authorities without any explanation.

“Some people filed a complaint,” explains Sergio Rodríguez, the spokesperson for the Municipality of La Antigua Guatemala. “So, the District Attorney’s office and the Police removed the statue.”

Little girls observe the devil in La Antigua Guatemala. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

According to Mr. Rodríguez, someone eventually started the rumor that the order came directly from the Mayor’s office, as this year’s devil featured a blond wig that, to some, was reminiscent of the Mayor’s own hair. “It was a false and very ridiculous idea,” he continues. “She has one and a thousand more important things to worry about than whether someone was making fun of her or not. The Municipality never emitted any kind of order to have the devil removed.”

Mr. Vitolio Contreras, who has presided over this particular event for a few years now, said that his committee filed several appeals with the District Attorney’s office to have the she-devil released from her captivity and to find out who it was that had it removed in the first place. Eventually, they gave back the she-devil, and recommended that the event organizers cover up her naked chest. “We still don’t know who ordered her,” Mr. Contreras concludes.

A baby devil being held by the devil in La Antigua Guatemala. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

The devil burns in La Antigua Guatemala. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

People take photos with their phones of the burning of the devil in La Antigua Guatemala. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

A little girl with devil horns looks at the burning devil in La Antigua Guatemala. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

People observe the burnt statue of the devil in La Antigua Guatemala. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

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