The Guatemalan town of Ciudad Vieja is usually best-known for being the second capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala during the Colonial Period. However, if you were to ask locals, the first thing that comes to mind is the town fair that takes place in December 7th. The celebration is held to commemorate the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception. During the fair, a parade of various characters better known as a convite—yes, that’s where our name comes from—takes place.
Two masses are held before the actual event begins. Once the second service concludes, several people take to the streets wearing colorful costumes to participate in the parade. They form two groups: the devils, and the grandmothers. Even though there are several themes and aspects to this parade, its main event is the Dance of the 24 Devils, a syncretic tradition. For this particular part of the convite, 13 different actors sport masks of demons and blond wigs. Each one of them represents one of the evil spirits of sins and ailments that roamed within the entrails of the Earth, like lust or envy. The rest of the characters are often “Monkeys” (Angels), and Death itself.
The dance is quite unique: the devils, along with several other characters, dance to the rhythm of guitars and accordions while trying to tempt the spectators into dancing (sinning) with them until they are driven away by the other dancers.
According to one of the local dance organizers, Adolfo Cortez, it represents the aftermath of the initial fight in Heaven and all the temptations that go with it. “It shows when God has already beaten the spirits,” he says. “That’s why the devils sport broken wings on their costumes.” Mr. Cortez added that, many years ago, the parade featured chariots being pulled by oxen with some of the characters on them. In 1985, big trucks replaced the chariots and are still in use today.
Towards the end of the performance, each one of the participants performs some sort of monologue, ending with the Big Devil. His last words, right after being beaten by all that’s good in the world, are often just an open invitation for people to follow him to hell.