Tonight, December 7th, is El Chemo del Diablo, the Burning of the Devil. It is a tradition in many Guatemalan towns to toss out the devil today, along with any worries or concerns. An effigy of the devil is burned tonight at 6 o’clock, in order to clear the way for the Christmas season. In true Guatemalan style, the blaze takes place in the street between the only two gas stations in Antigua. The bomberos (firemen) will be there just in case… On the weekend I bought a small effigy to burn outside my door tonight. Not that I have any worries or concerns to cast off! In a weird blend of traditions, the effigy is a cross between Santa and Satan. It is made of cardboard and tissue paper, like a piñata. Mine has a red suit and black belt, like Santa, but he has red horns and a long red tail, a black beard and a demonic smile. I haven’t decided whether to do him in with a slow burn, or by blowing him apart with firecrackers. Firecrackers are popular here for every celebration, or just for fun. In the park recently, two boys were setting off firecrackers in the street in the middle of the day, just for a lark, disturbing my tranquil time. They were blowing up plastic bottles as an extra thrill. No one else even jumps when loud firecrackers are set off right beside them. Even the horses don’t spook! Last night I also bought some battery operated red horns to wear around town. They were a big hit with the local people who I encountered. Lots of smiles. It reminded me of a special time long ago. I was in Kabul, Afghanistan on October 31st, 1974. I was able to buy a pumpkin in the market, and carved it into a jack-o-lantern. I put a candle inside and walked around the streets that night. There was a variety of reactions, from amusement to fear. I gave it to two Afghan men who had a boot shop. They loved it and kept it as a lantern for about a week, until it was caving in. Those were much gentler times in Afghanistan.
El Parque Central is beautifully decorated for Christmas. For the last two weeks of November, workers were very busy putting white lights in all of the trees in the park. Last Sunday they lit them up for the first time, with a spectacular fireworks display as well. Apparently the Bayer drug company pays for the light display each year. There is music in the park almost every evening now, to add to the festive feeling.