Today is La Quema del Diablo (The Burning of the Devil), always held on December 7th, which started in Guatemala in Colonial times to prepare for the feast of the Immaculate Conception. People lit lanterns outside of their homes, but those who couldn’t afford lanterns, lit piles of garbage that they gathered from a massive house cleaning. This house cleaning and trash burning began to symbolize a fresh start into the New Year...a sort of cleansing of negative energy. Eventually, tradition evolved and soon it became a yearly event to burn an effigy of the devil at 6 p.m. accompanied by fireworks and firecrackers throughout the country. It is believed that the devil lives in unnecessary and materialistic possessions and represents misfortune and a presence of evil...or negativity.
I always remember celebrating this night by drinking Ponche (hot punch) and Chocolate Caliente (hot chocolate) - delicious. As a kid, I remember making our pile of trash in front of our house, along with our neighbors. It was so much fun. I can definitely see how scary or odd it would be for someone not knowing the culture and this particular tradition. Every time I explain this tradition, people look at me as though I have three heads.
Now, living in Chicago, my version of a burning pile has become my fireplace. I light it up and throw in a printed picture of the little Devil Piñatas from Guatemala and enjoy a cup of Hot Chocolate. Not the same AT ALL, but I make it work and keep the tradition present.
This night not only represents cleansing your home and yourself, but it also sets forth the Holiday preparations ahead. I like to make this night a bit more special and use it to reflect on the changes I should make...not just for the coming year, but permanently. Traditions like tonight's, really bring to mind my favorite quote: "You better yourself not through the comparison of others, but through the improvement of your previous self."