Thursday, December 8, 2016

Burning of the Devil Celebration

James and Ellie Carr
Last night, James and I experienced our first "Quema del Diablo" or "Burning of the Devil" here in Guatemala.  The somewhat controversial celebration is one that we don't condone as Christians, but was interesting to be a part of, and I wanted to share a little more about the commemoration of the day with you, and why we observed it at Fundaniños Children's Home this year.
The devil shaped piñatas waiting to adorn the Fundaniños burn pile


Traditionally in Guatemala, December 7 is a day when people purify their households from the sin of the previous year in preparation for a new year and the celebration of the coming of Christ at Christmas.  The tradition is suspected to have started in colonial times on the day before the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  As years passed, people grew the tradition believing that the devil was constantly lurking and living behind furniture and in dark corners of their homes.  To cleanse their homes, people would bring out any sort of trash, household items in disrepair, and even clean out their refrigerators of old food.  They would then burn off all of the items signifying a total cleansing of their households.

Today's Celebrations

La "Quema del Diablo" is now celebrated nationwide with heaps of trash and other flammable objects lit promptly at 6:00 pm on December 7 creating millions of buying trash piles nation wide.  It was so fascinating to see small fires all burning at exactly 6:00 across the rural mountains facing Fundaniños yesterday evening.  During the weeks leading up to the occasion, you will see Piñatas in the form of small red devils, about three feet tall, lining the highways and roads in Guatemala, as they are sold to passing by cars for any where from $2-$7.  Often the devils will also take the form of controversial or loathed public figures, and added to the scene this year was none other than small cartoon shaped Donald Trump piñatas.  The figures come stuffed with Black Cat firecrackers and other explosives and are perched at the top of each household's burn pile.  In some cities, devils and mannequins of disdained political figures are constructed, in some cases up to three stories tall, and the town or pueblo will gather to burn the figure hoping for a change in the coming year.
The fire moments after being doused in gasoline and lit

A Learning Opportunity

As the head of spiritual growth at Fundaniños, James took the opportunity to teach the kids about how our sins are really forgiven by a loving God, and how the celebration itself cannot cleanse us of our own sin nor temptations and demons that we face.  He took time yesterday to talk to each of the houses onsite and explain to the kids the historical and pagan beliefs behind the event as well as the cultural significance.  As it is a tradition here at Fundaniños, and we are cultural outsiders, it was not something that we wanted to come in a strong-arm and demand that the celebrations cease.  Instead we used it as a time to teach the kids about their nation, heritage, and God's truth regarding the issue. Several kids and caregivers opted not to participate in the occasion, and we gave them the liberty to do so and have free time instead.  Several others took it as an opportunity to write down sin in their lives that they wanted to take the initiative to get rid of and place it at the base of the fire symbolically to mark yesterday as a day in which they wanted to move forward in the Lord and let go of sins and burdens holding them back.  We made it clear that the ritual of the fire would not do so for them, but they would have to make an effort and a choice to put that sin behind them in their lives.
Riley with her first sparkler
After the initial burn pile had finished detonating, the children were provided with hours' worth of sparklers and small fireworks to play with.  I mean, forty-something children playing with smoke bombs and firecrackers, what could possibly have gone wrong?? We are learning how to do Guatemalan-sized celebrations here, and celebrations in Guatemala are neither reserved nor ordinary!  The night closed with a huge fireworks show donated by the founder of Fundaniños, that captivated not only the Funda kids, but also all of our neighbors in the valley.
Overall, we had a superb time learning and experiencing new traditions yesterday.  We would love to hear below what you truly think about the celebrations, and any doubts or questions you have for us as well!

In Him,
James + Ellie

James and Ellie Carr / Author & Editor

James and Ellie Carr have been missionaries in Gautemala since 2014 and write to share their feelings and how they have experienced God's goodness and mercy on the mission field.


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