Christmas season in Guatemala

by Ana Cetina, Nov 2, 2016

We are in that time of the year, when the time passes faster. Guatemala is full with the Christmas spirit starting in November, not only the stores and malls are already all decorated for the season; people are more relaxed and joyful.

Guatemalans are very religious people, that is why all the religious celebrations are traditional in Guatemala and December is one of the most important months for celebrations. The starting point of the festivities in December and the Christmas season is “La Quema del Diablo” or the devil’s burning.

Devil piñata burning in Guatemala. (Photograph by Byron Mármol)
Devil piñata burning in Guatemala. (Photograph by Byron Mármol)

The devil’s burning has its base in the Immaculate Conception of Mary feast day, celebrated on December 8th. The devil’s burning starts at 6:00pm on December 7th, and is a magical/religious Guatemalan celebration; it coincides with the 9 months memorial of Mary and the Advent of Jesus. This ritual is symbol of spiritual clean up. At 6:00pm people set fire to all the trash that symbolizes all the bad fillings and impurity in their life.

The tradition consists in taking out all the old things you can find in your home, like doing a deep cleaning, you burn newspapers, old notebooks, boxes and other paper people can find and set on fire. More recently people started to buy piñatas with a form of devil (the piñata is made with wire to make the form of the devil, old newspapers to cover the wire, and tissue paper to cover the newspaper with the desire color and do the eyes and other feature of the devil). People also burn fireworks like firecrackers and bombs. It is a fun way to start the Christmas season.

On December 8th, in Guatemala City and Antigua Guatemala you can see the traditional procession of the Immaculate Conception of Mary in celebration of her day.

The next feast day of December in Guatemalan is the celebration of Our Mother of Guadalupe day (Madonna of Tepeyac, Tonantzin), also known as Virgin of Guadalupe, this is the image that appeared four times before Juan Diego, an indigenous Mexican men, in a place called the Hill of Tepeyac. In Guatemala parents dress their children with Indigenous customs and take them to the Basilica of Guadalupe or to the nearest church with an image of Virgin of Guadalupe to ask for its blessing. Some churches have processions in the near streets and burn firecrackers and bombs.

During every Friday in December you will find Posadas, Christmas parties, people taking small processions of Saint Mary and Saint Joseph from one house to another and Christmas carols. People ask others into their houses and once inside they pray and eat typical food.

Guatemalan people dress up in Christmas outfits
Guatemalan people dress up in Christmas outfits

Some countries put the Christmas tree the 23rd or 24th of December but in Guatemala people put their trees at the beginning of December, at the same time they set up the Nativity scene. For Guatemalans it is more important to have a Nativity scene than a Christmas tree! And many people even visits churches, monasteries, and private houses to see the magnificent Nativities scenes they build.

You can find concerts of Christmas Carols and other presentations in shopping malls, main plazas and other places. The popular markets are full of Christmas ornaments and you can also find Christmas Markets in different areas of Guatemala; near the Central Market, in Guatemala City’s zone one, a Christmas Market is set, starting on December 1st. There, people can buy Christmas ornaments, Santa Claus figures, lights, Nativity images, other ornaments to make the Nativity and fireworks.

On Christmas Eve most people are making the Christmas dinner, buying last minutes presents or traveling to their homes to see their loved ones. At night, mass is held at different times, depending on the church it can be at 8:00pm, 9:00pm or 10:00pm. After mass people go back to their house to spend the night with family and friends and wait for Christmas, depending on the family they have dinner before or after midnight.

At midnight people say prayers, burn fireworks that makes the night look like day, hug each other wishing them Merry Christmas and go back inside to exchange presents. Children are held outside, watching the fireworks, while one of the parents goes back inside and puts the presents under the three or next to the Nativity scene so the children can find them when they go back inside thinking Santa Claus brought the presents.

New Year’s Eve is also a big holiday! Many people spend it with their families. Like Christmas they all have dinner and at midnight they hug each other wishing them a Happy New Year. Then they burn fireworks. Since this is not a religious celebration a lot of people travel to the country side, the beach or to another tourist destination outside the country. You can also find parties all around Guatemala. One of the main meeting points is Antigua Guatemala, where people are celebrating on the streets; before midnight people gather around the Santa Catalina Arch to wait for the New Year.