Burning the Devil or La Quema del Diablo is a tradition held every December 7, at 6:00 in the evening sharp, families build bonfires outside their homes and burn effigy of Satan. It is a tradition that many Guatemalans take part as a way to cleanse their home from devils that lurk in their home, creeping behind the furniture or hiding under the bed.
La quema del diablo can be traced to colonial time, a tradition that started since the 18th century. Held on the eve of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and as a prelude to holiday season, those who could afford it adorns the fronts of their houses with lanterns, but for those who have lesser means builds a bonfires from their trash to celebrate the occasion.
A symbolical tradition with a belief that the fire burns the devil serves as purifying element, as the Virgin Mary was the blessed one to conceive baby Jesus must be free from any form of evil, therefore the event serves as “burning the devil” to clear the way for Mary’s feast.
Though the celebration may sound fun, it is controversial especially for the environmentalist groups. Back in the days, mostly paper were burned for the “cleansing ritual”, but now, piles of rubbish are mostly made of plastic and rubber that causes air pollution.
Over time the tradition evolved, from burning piles of garbage and pieces of furniture to being replaced by the effigy of Satan in a form of piñatas.
The tradition has special significance in Guatemala City because of its anticipation of Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the patron saint of the city. Along the street of Zona 1, the historic city center, many vendors pile the street selling stuffs associated with La Quema del Diablo, from firecrackers to simple and intricate devil piñatas. In different parts of the city, people celebrate and burn their own devil piñatas.
The tradition continues, as the idea is to burn all the bad from the previous year and to start anew from the ashes. It is widely observed throughout the country, The Devil is burned at the stroke of six. In Antigua, the former capital of the country, a devil three stories tall is constructed and burned in the city square.
A variation of this tradition is held in San Antonio Palopo. In this very unique celebration, they carry a statue of Maximón around town with a noose around his neck, they locals then hang Maximón by his neck in front of Catholic church, douse him with gasoline, and set him on fire. This is the local way of showing respect to the Christian god.
Setting people on fire has been a way of ridding the town of evil doers for many centuries. As soon as the Spaniards settled in Guatemala they brought with them the Christian religion. The Christian religion frowned on bloodshed. So instead they burned evil doers alive to kill them. This way they did not shed blood and therefor committed no sin.
Most of the inhabitants still pray to both the Christian and Mayan gods and deities such as Maximón or ancestors. They often ask for healing, wealth, help with love and sexual fertility.
The locals say they pray to both just in case one god does not grant their wishes the other might. This happens with both evangelical and Catholic believers. ( Not all, but the majority) This is kept secret for fear of discrimination from others.
While the many of the locals pray to both god and deities they publicly denounce Maximón shortly before Christmas by dragging him around the village then hang him with a noose and set him on fire.
The political version of this festival:
Guatemalans burn traditional devil puppets to start their Christmas celebrations. The ceremonial burning of devils started in the 16th century and is meant to chase away bad spirits. And in 2016, US president-elect Donald Trump was a big hit. But not in a good way.
Revelers in Guatemala set ablaze cardboard piñata of Trump wearing devil horns. In fact, piñata makers said Trump is far and away the best-seller. Trump’s hardline stance on immigration during his election campaign, including a promise to build a wall along the US-Mexico border, has drawn anger from Latin Americans in the US and around the world.
So this is a way to vent out the anger? It can be. Guatemalans believe the practice of torching the devil helps banish bad spirits from their homes and neighborhoods.
“If the Saint calls you, if you have an open road, then you don’t feel the fire as if it were your enemy,”
Dating back to Pagan times, the Anastenaria is a traditional ritual ritual of fire-walking celebrated in a few places in Northern Greece and in southern Bulgaria, where Greek descendants from Thrace settled in 1923. Every year the Bulgarian and Greek villages if Aghia Eleni near Serres, Langada near Thessaloniki, Kerkini near Serres, some villages on the coast of Evros River and a singular small village near the city of Drama perform this unique annual ritual.
The central figures of the tradition are Saint Constantine and Saint Helen, but all the significant days in this cycle coincide with important days in the Greek Orthodox calendar and are related to various Christian saints.
Along with the fire-walking ritual, the 3-day festival has various processions, music, dancing and an animal sacrifice. On the eve of the feasts of Saints Constantine and Helen, while trance like rhythms of beating drums sound in the background, the Anastenarides take part in dances during which they believe that they are “seized” by the saints, and enter a state of trance. During this trance, they carry the icons of saints Constantine and Helen and dance ecstatically for hours before walking barefoot across hot coals that can reach as hot as 535 degrees Celsius.
The roots of this tradition are seeped in mystery and a bit of controversy as well. The Anastenarides say that the origin of the ritual lies in a fire which took place at Kosti, near the Black Sea in the thirteenth century which set ablaze the church of Saint Constantine. As the empty church burned, the villagers claimed to hear cries coming from the flames and believed that they were the voices of the saints calling out for help. The villagers who braved the flames to rescue them were unharmed, being protected by the saints. Neither the human protectors nor the icons were burned or hurt in any way. This occurrence prompted the annual celebration which the Anastenaria holds to honor their safe delivery.
However, many scholars do not believe this to be the true origin of the Anastenaria rituals. It is largely believed that the ceremony is the survival of an ancient Thracian Dionysian ritual which was later given a superficial Christian interpretation to help receive a better reception from the Greek Orthodox church, which does not support the rituals as they are viewed as pagan. This hasn’t stopped the Anastenarides from celebrating their age old tradition.
The two major events in this cycle are two big festivals, one in January and particularly one in May, dedicated to these two saints. Each of the festivals lasts for 3 days and involves various processions, music and dancing, and an animal sacrifice. The festival culminates with a firewalking ritual, where the participants, carrying the icons of saints Constantine and Helen, dance ecstatically for hours before entering the fire and walking barefoot over the glowing-red coals, unharmed by the fire.
Each village community of Anastenarides is headed by a “group of twelve” who, on the eve of the saints’ day, May 20 Saint Constantine and Saint Helen, gather in the “konaki”, where their holy icons are placed, as well as the “signs” of the saints (semadia), and votive offerings. These are draped with large red kerchiefs (simadia), which are believed to possess the power of the icons.
On the morning of the Saints’ day, May 21, the gather at the konaki and proceed to a well to be blessed with holy water, and sacrifice animals. The rules about the nature of the beasts to be slain are precise, but differ from village to village.
In the konaki they work themselves into a trance-like state through hours of devotional dancing to the music of the Thracian lyre and drum. The main aspect of this festival is at night, when they firewalk. In the evening a fire is lit in an open space, and after dancing for some time in the konaki, the “anastenarides” go to it carrying their ikons. After dancing around it in a circle, individual anastenarides dance over the hot coals as the saint moves them.
They make a huge fire, and when it is down to extremely hot coals, some of them (only some people are “called” to do this) walk and dance on the fire. They believe that during the dance they are “seized” by the saints.
The next day, a ritualistic sacrifice of animals takes place. After lunch the Anastenarides gather again and resume their dancing. A candle is lit from one of the oil lamps in front of the icons, and is used to light a bonfire. When the wood burns, coal is spread down.
Here is a personal account of the experience:
It’s dark outside. The moon hangs in the sky and the soft smell of smoke permeates the warm air as it stings your eyes. Looking down, you notice the glow from burning coals, as hot as 535 degrees C, scattered on the ground below. The trancelike rhythm from the beating drums fills your ears as the Patron Saints Constantine and Helen are honored in the town of Agia Eleni in Northern Greece.
he whole village surrounds you and they share in your moment, as the richness of the surrounding imagery and importance of the ritual consumes the senses. You are in a sublime state of ecstasy as the glowing coals lay before you. But, will you walk across? When Saint Constantine calls you to become a firewalker – you answer – at least if you are one of the Anastenaria.
Initially the Anastenarides dance barefoot around the hot ashes, but when the saints moves them, individuals run across the burning coals. Sometimes devotees kneel down beside the fire and pound the ashes with the palms of their hands. This continues until the ashes are cool.
During the next two days, the Anastenarides proceed around the village visiting each house. On 23 May they conclude with a second dance over the fire, although this one is in private and not for tourists.
The ritual is also performed in January, during the festival of Saint Athanasius, and fire-walking is done indoors.
Belenus, whose name means “Bright One,” was one of the most ancient of Celtic gods. The Celtic fire festival, held on the eve of the first of May, known as Beltane, (the fires of Bel) is probably derived from the name of this deity. Beltane fires were lit to encourage the sun’s warmth. These fires also had restorative properties and cattle were herded between them before being loosed on the new spring pastures.
Closely connected to the Druids, ruler of science, healing, hot springs, fire, success, prosperity, purification, crops, vegetation, fertility. It is likely that Belenus (Bel, or Beli) was a fire deity, a patron of flame and the sun’s restorative powers (which explains his classical association with Apollo). Originally he may have been a pastoral deity and in Cymric myth is associated with cattle, sheep and crops. Though this may be because Beltane was the time that herds were moved to the high pastures.
The Celtic god of light and healing, “Bel” means “shining one,” or in Irish Gaelic, the name “bile” translates to “sacred tree.” It is thought that the waters of Danu, the Irish All-Mother goddess, fed the oak and produced their son, The Dagda. As the Welsh Beli, he is the father of Arianrhod by Don.
Patron of sheep and cattle, Bel’s festival is Beltane, one of two main Celtic fire festivals. Beltane celebrates the return of life and fertility to the world — marking the beginning of Summer and the growing season.
Taking place on April 30 (May Eve) and in some areas on May 1, Beltane also is sometimes referred to as “Cetsamhain” which means “opposite Samhain.” The word “Beltaine” literally means “bright” or “brilliant fire,” and refers to the bonfire lit by a presiding Druid in honor of Bile.
Found at: Encyclopedia Mythica
The “L’Hom Strom” festival takes place on the first Saturday in February every year the small community of Scuol in canton Graubünden, (in Switzerland close to the borders of both Austria and Italy). The “hom strom” is the famous “Straw Man of Scuol,” a large dummy.that is set alight.
On the first Saturday in February, young men crack whips to assemble the population, and the youths of Scuol, then go from farm to farm collecting straw which has been hand-threshed and especially prepared for this purpose. The straw is taken down to the village square where the thick strands of rye are then twined around a telephone pole which is almost eight meters (24 ft) long. The work must be done by noon, at which time the bundle should have reached a diameter of approximately two meters.
In the afternoon, a group of adults take the “l’hom strom” to Gurlaina and place the Hom Strom in a specially prepared hole in a field, and there set up ready for burning. The enormous effigy is carefully guarded to protect him so that pranksters – specifically the boys from the next village – cannot light him before his time!
At dusk, the people of Scuol parade through the village streets singing songs on the way to Gurlaina. As night falls, the dummy is burned, accompanied by songs to drive away the winter.When the tower clock strikes eight, the oldest boys throw balls of fire, which are rags drenched in petroleum and which have up to now illuminated the grounds, at the Hom Strom and set him aflame.
At the end of the burning ceremony attending locals sing the fourth stanza of the song Hom Strom written in the 50’s by Men Rauch, born and raised in Scuol, where a Christian adaptation is easily recognizable:
Las flommas van in ot,
portond al Segner lod,
chi’ns dosta dal malom,
eviva nos Hom Strom!!
The flames that burn up into the sky,
give praise to the Lord,
who, in turn, protects us from evil,
long live our straw man!!…
The children and adults sing the Hom Strom song, written by a native poet. Half an hour later, the spirit of winter is consumed and everyone walks back to the village. This death by fire symbolizes the rapidly approaching end of winter.
~Info from various sources
On the winter solstice, on the longest night of the year, people would place and set afire an entire tree, that was carefully chosen and brought into the house with great ceremony. The largest end of the log would be placed into the fire hearth while the rest of the tree stuck out into the room! The log would be lit from the remains of the previous year’s log which had been carefully stored away and slowly fed into the fire through the Twelve Days of Christmas.
It was considered important that the re-lighting process was carried out by someone with clean hands.
Tradition has it that the burning of the Yule log was performed to honor the Great Mother Goddess. The log would be lit on the eve of the solstice using the remains of the log from the previous year and would be burned for twelve hours for good luck and protection.
As the fire began all other lights would be extinguished and the people would gather round the fire. In thanksgiving and appreciation for the events of the past year and in bidding the year farewell each person would toss dried holly twigs into the fire.
The next phase of the burning of the Yule log commenced with people tossing oak twigs and acorns into the fire and they would shout out their hopes and resolutions for the coming New Year and sing Yuletide carols. The celebration of the Yule log fire ended with unburned pieces of the Yule log saved to start the fire of next winter’s solstice Yule log.
The custom of the Yule Log spread all over Europe and different kids of wood are used in different countries. In England, Oak is traditional. The “mighty oak” was the most sacred tree of Europe, representing the waxing sun, symbolized endurance, strength, protection, and good luck to people in the coming year. In Scotland, it is Birch; while in France, it’s Cherry. Also, in France, the log is sprinkled with wine, before it is burnt, so that it smells nice when it is lit.
The earliest Yule Log in France can be traced back to Celtic Brittany. When the Catholic Church stamped out the Pagan tradition, it adapted. In the 12th century, the ceremony became more elaborate.
Families would haul home enormous logs and in some regions, the youngest child was allowed to ride the log home. As families dragged their logs home, passers by would raise their hats because they knew the log was full of good promises and its flame would burn out old wrongs.
For the Vikings, the yule log was an integral part of their celebration of the solstice, the julfest; on the log, they would carve runes representing unwanted traits (such as ill fortune or poor honor) that they wanted the gods to take from them.
People would also use the log as a way to predict events in the upcoming year. They would hit the burning log with tongs and the embers emitted would tell them what the harvest would be like. The more embers, the more corn. The fire was read and predictions were made for the coming year based on the sparks and flames they saw, like how many chickens or calves would be born, marriages in the family, health, wealth, etc. If the fire cast shadows on the wall, there would be a death in the family that year.
The remaining cinders would be placed in the soil so they would prevent grain diseases and produce a good harvest. They’d be spread around chicken coops to keep away foxes and in the barns and lofts where corn was stored to keep rats and weevils away. During a storm, throwing a handful into the fire would keep the house safe from lightening.
The ashes of the Yule Log were believed to hold magical and medicinal powers that would ward off evil spirits for the coming year. Ashes from the Yule log are very beneficial to garden plants, however, it is considered very unlucky to throw out the ashes of the Yule log on Christmas day.
Various chemicals can be sprinkled on the log like wine to make the log burn with different colored flames! Here’s a short list. Be sure to follow safety precautions if you plan on using them!!
- Potassium Nitrate = Violet
- Barium Nitrate = Apple Green
- Borax = Vivid Green
- Copper Sulphate = Blue
- Table Salt = Bright Yellow
Here’s how they celebrate Beltane in Edinburgh!
First organized in the 1980’s, the Beltane Fire Festival has become a popular festival in Edinburgh. Here we have photos of the Beltane Fire Society celebrating Spring and the coming of summer. This lively procession celebrates the ending of winter and is a revival of the ancient Celtic festival of Beltane which is the Gaelic name for the month of May. More about Beltane can be found here: Beltane
The Easter Fire is a custom of pagan origin spread all over Europe. It is a symbol of victory, the victory of beautiful and sunny spring over the cold days of winter.
On Holy Saturday or Easter Sunday, in rare occasions also on Easter Monday, large fires are lit at dusk in numerous sections of Northwestern Europe. These regions include Denmark, parts of Sweden as well as in Finland, Northern Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.
The fire is lit usually on the top of the mountains – Easter mountain, Osterberg – and it is obtained from wood by friction. In Germany, the Easter fire is created by gathering all the Christmas trees and burning them into a huge fire, a sign for everyone to leave behind winter and prepare for spring.
Though not documented before the 16th century, the custom presumably is based on Saxon, pre-Christian traditions, that are still performed each year. There are several explanations of the meaning of these fires. The Saxons believed that around the time of Easter, Spring becomes victorious over Winter. The fires were to help chase the darkness and winter away. It was also a symbol of fertility, which works in a literal sense in that the ashes were scattered over the meadows and thereby fertilized the soil.
The pre-Christian meaning of Easter fires is hardly experienced anymore. Nowadays they are meant to bring the community together, which guarantees a pleasant night combined with the consumption of beer, mulled wine or liquor, and snacks.
This is the name given to two festivals held in ancient Boeotia, which was a part of Greece, in honor of the reconciliation of Hera and Zeus. The dates of these festivals are somewhat nebulous and varied from place to place and year to year. One source cites March 10th.
According to the myth, Hera and Zeus quarreled and Hera went away to Euboea and refused to return to his bed. To trick her into coming back and on the advice of Cithaeron, Zeus dressed up a carved oak-trunk to resemble a bride and let it be known that he planned to marry Plataea, the daughter of Asopus. Hera was so angry she tore the clothes from the statue, discovered the deception, and was so pleased that the two were reconciled.
The Lesser Daedala (Δαίδαλα μικρά) was held every four to six years. The people of Plataea went to an ancient oak grove and exposed pieces of cooked meat to ravens, attentively watching upon which tree any of the birds, after taking a piece of meat, would settle. Out of this tree they carved an image, and having it dressed as a bride, they set it on a bullock cart with a bridesmaid beside it. The image seems then to have been drawn to the bank of the river Asopus and back to the town, attended by a cheering crowd.
After fourteen of these cycles (approx.59 or 60 years), the Greater Daedala (Δαίδαλα μεγάλα) was held, and all Boeotia joined in the celebration. At its start one wooden figure was chosen from the many that had accumulated through the years and designated the “bride”. The wooden figure was prepared as a bride for a wedding, ritually bathed in the Asopus, adorned and raised on a wagon with an attendant. This wagon led a procession of wains carrying the accumulated daedala (all the other images that had been created over the years) up to the summit of Mount Kithairon, where a wooden sacrificial altar was erected out of square pieces of wood.
This was covered with a quantity of dry wood, and the towns, persons of rank, and other wealthy individuals, offered each a heifer to Hera and a bull to Zeus with plenty of wine and incense, while at the same time all of the daedala were placed upon the altar. For those who did not possess sufficient means, it was customary to offer small sheep, but all these offerings were immolated in a hecatomb in the same manner as those of the wealthier persons. The fire consumed both offerings and altar
An ancient account of myth behind the festival is related by Pausanias:
“Hera, they say, was for some reason or other angry with Zeus, and had retreated to Euboia. Zeus, failing to make her change her mind, visited Kithairon, at that time despot in Plataea, who surpassed all men for his cleverness. So he ordered Zeus to make an image of wood, and to carry it, wrapped up, in a bullock wagon, and to say that he was celebrating his marriage with Plataia, the daughter of Asopus. So Zeus followed the advice of Kithairon.
Hera heard the news at once, and at once appeared on the scene. But when she came near the wagon and tore away the dress from the image, she was pleased at the deceit, on finding it a wooden image and not a bride, and was reconciled to Zeus. To commemorate this reconciliation they celebrate a festival called Daidala, because the men of old time gave the name of daidala to wooden images… the Plataeans hold the festival of the Daidala every six years, according to the local guide, but really at a shorter interval.
I wanted very much to calculate exactly the interval between one Daedala and the next, but I was unable to do so. In this way they celebrate the feast.”
Found at Wikipedia
Up Helly Aa refers to any of a variety of fire festivals held in Shetland, in Scotland, annually in the middle of winter to mark the end of the yule season and celebrate the arrival of the Vikings. Traditionally held on the last Tuesday in January, the festival involves a procession of up to a thousand guizers in Lerwick and considerably lower numbers in the more rural festivals, formed into squads who march through the town or village in a variety of themed costumes.
The current Lerwick celebration grew out of the older yule tradition of tar barreling which took place at Christmas and New Year as well as Up Helly-Aa. After the abolition of tar barreling, permission was eventually obtained for torch processions. The first yule torch procession took place in 1876. The first torch celebration on Up Helly-Aa day took place in 1881. The following year the torch lit procession was significantly enhanced and institutionalized through a request by a Lerwick civic body to hold another Up Helly-Aa torch procession for the visit of the Duke of Edinburgh. The first galley was burned in 1889.
There is a main guizer who is dubbed the “Jarl”. There is a committee which you must be part of for fifteen years before you can be a jarl, and only one person is elected to this committee each year.
The procession culminates in the torches being thrown into a replica Viking longship or galley. The event happens all over Shetland, but it is only the Lerwick galley which is not sent seaward. Everywhere else, the galley is sent seabound, in an echo of legendary Viking sea burials.
After the procession, the squads visit local halls (including schools, sports facilities and hotels), where private parties are held. At each hall, each squad performs its act, which may be a send-up of a popular TV show or film, a skit on local events, or singing or dancing, usually in flamboyant costume.
Due to the often-flamboyant costumes and the large quantity of males dressing up as females (Traditionally, the Capital festival does not permit women to partake in the squads) in the Lerwick festival, it has earned the joke name ‘Transvestite Tuesday’. The photos below show a few examples of the festival’s highlights.
Bonfire Night is a name given to various annual celebrations characterized by bonfires and fireworks. The event celebrates different traditions on different dates, depending on the country. Some of the most popular instances include the following:
- Walpurgis Night – Apr 30 – Scandinavia
- St John’s Eve – Jun 23 – Ireland, Spain, Northern Portugal
- Eleventh Night – Jul 11 – Northern Ireland
- Feast of the Assumption – Aug 15 – Northern Ireland
- Guy Fawkes Night – Nov 5 – in Great Britain, Newfoundland and Labrador
Note: This is by no means a complete list of celebrations referred to as “Bonfire Night.”