The quema del diablo, as it’s called in Guatemala, marks the triumph of good over evil and is the official beginning of the Christmas holiday season. It ignites almost a month of Christmas festivities and processions. “It’s a celebration that brings people together and charges them with good vibes prior to the Christmas season,” Girón says.
The annual Quema in Antigua is the largest and best known, but the ritual is celebrated throughout much of central Guatemala at dusk on Dec. 7. People clean out their homes, pile up their trash and burn it, the fires symbolizing purification and freedom from the forces of evil. The message: The devil may wreak havoc all year long, but December belongs to the saints.
The devil burning isn’t well known outside Guatemala — far more visitors attend Antigua’s Semana Santa procession, which marks Easter Holy Week in early spring. But the Quema is emblematic of the Guatemalan spirit and its mixing of ancient Mayan beliefs and Catholic religious practices. Like Mayan festivals, it is loud, boisterous and jubilant, with firecrackers and marimba music. In true Christian form, it demonstrates that good can trump evil and that no matter how bad things get, there’s always hope for redemption.