Christmas in Antigua Guatemala has its own salsa-chile twist on the jolly old time of the year. There’s not as much premium on shopping as there is on celebrating with friends, family and community. Here are five Christmas season fiestas, done Antigua Guatemala-style, which the Yolkobsens will be enjoying this season.
Christmas Fiesta #1 – Quema del Diablo – Burning of the Devil – December 7
This is the kick-off to the Christmas season and what a barn burner it is. This fiesta is held on the eve of The Immaculate Conception (December 8). This is the Devil’s night and an effigy of the laughing evil one is placed a few days before in the Concepcion neighborhood of Antigua Guatemala. The idea is that he must be expunged through fire, and so, driven from people’s hearts, along with all the sins that may have accumulated among us everywhere over the year. At 6 p.m. the torch is put to Old Nick who sits on an arsenal of firecrackers. Up he goes in a pelt-pelta bang explosion of pyrotechnics and flame, with at least 1,500 people crowding in to see the devil get the BBQ treatment. Only thing is, trying to rid the devil through fire is like punishing Poseidon with water. You can be sure he’ll be back next year.
Christmas Festival #2 – Our Lady of Guadeloupe – Virgen de Guadalupe – December 12
Our Lady of Guadeloupe Day is a bigger deal in Mexico where the miracles associated with this saint were first reported and celebrated back in 1531. However, Antigua Guatemala puts on quite a show. The night before, there are surreal processions where a statue of Our Lady of Guadeloupe is carried around the town in a two-hour loop. A brass and drum band follows behind the procession, alternating the music between religious and happy, jouncy-bouncy selections that hint at mariachi energy, as much as is possible via tuba, trumpet and drums. Best of all, there is music all over town, firecrackers (including the bomb-like blast of M-80 crackers) and audacious fireworks. Families and friends celebrate with traditional foods and kids dress up in traditional Guatemalan clothes. And yes, the next day there’s constant firecrackers.
Christmas Festival #3 – The Inns – Las Posadas – December 15 to 23
For nine nights in row neighborhoods organize a search for the inns, reenacting how Mary and Joseph looked in vain for a room in Bethlehem. Each night a procession knocks at a participant’s door. All are invited in and offered punch, cakes, chocolates, tamales, chuchitos (“little dogs” a kind of tamale) or whatever the hosts will offer. This is repeated over the evenings. Each night, images of Mary and Joseph are carried to the host houses and are left there overnight. For many, this is a deeply religious act of faith, for just as many others, however, it’s chance to invite neighbors and friends in for some good old fashioned secular partying. And yes, there is music, bravura fireworks and the relentless pierce and pelt of firecrackers. It sets the car alarms and dogs to howling, which becomes part of the merriment. Honest.
Christmas Festival #4 – Christmas Eve – Noche Buena – December 24
Late afternoon of Christmas eve sees the Dance of the Giants. Los Gigantes, some dressed like the three kings, others just rocking gaudy finery, dance around the main streets on stilts. Marimba music sets the tone as holidayers join in or just tap a toe while they watch the cheery mad procession. Later, folks gather with family, with many attending church, eat a holiday spread and then open a modest selection of presents. At midnight there is a massive display of fireworks in the main parque that tilts the town with the sheer ooh and ahh of it all.
Christmas Festival #5 – All Fool’s Day – Dia de los Inocentes – December 28
Okay, this isn’t really a festival. Instead, it’s a day of fun and mayhem Guate style. It can sort of be likened to April Fool’s Day, but with a harder edge. Instead of playing lame and harmless pranks, people will do things like phone a friend to say in the most serious and excited tones that her husband has been in an accident and is in the hospital. Or how about this knee-slapper: I feel I have to tell you that your husband is having and affair and you’re the last to know. Or how about this one: I have a wasting disease and I wanted you to be the first to know. If the person swallows the story then the taunt of “inocente” follows. One hopes all is forgiven by New Year‘s eve.