The celebration of La Concepción in Ciudad Vieja, near La Antigua Guatemala, is incredible!
Everyone enjoys beginning the Christmas cycle by “burning the devil” on Dec. 7. Many will gather at La Concepción in Antigua at 6 p.m. to burn an effigy of the devil enhanced with a sign notating local gossip. After the reading of his “will,” the image goes up in flames. Custom requires the burning of paper trash in front of houses to ward off bad spirits.
The fiestas feature a convite in Ciudad Vieja on Dec. 7 at about 1 p.m. with dozens of carriages/vehicles with religious, cultural and sports decorations. Convites are allegorical parades the day before a procession and are great fun to see.
On the following day, Dec. 8, Ciudad Vieja celebrates its virgin patron’s day—Día de la Virgen de La Concepción—with incredible dances and more fireworks than I have ever seen all at once in Guatemala. Mass is held at the church in the central plaza at 10 a.m., followed by the burning of granadas for about an hour. Folkloric dances are performed all day for one of the best fiestas in Guatemala!
The Dance of the 24 Devils, dedicated to the Virgen de Concepción, is a satire with men dressed as women, political tirades and daily issues.
Many of Guatemala’s folkloric dances originated in the Iberian Peninsula and have certainly acquired characteristics of their own in local towns. The Dance of the 24 Devils appears in Cataluña as early as 1150 and was probably introduced in Guatemala in colonial times. It is a theatrical dance between good and evil with moral satire. Two of my favorite figures are death and the monkey, amongst others, who sing at the end of the dance, asking the Virgin for her blessing.
Another favorite is the Dance of the Seven Vices and Seven Virtues. This medieval dance originated in Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries and became very popular in Madrid at the end of the 16th century for Corpus Christi. While we find this dance in Mexico, it is very popular today in Ciudad Vieja.
The male devil figures represent arrogance, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, laziness and the monkey; the virtuous female figures represent humility, generosity, chastity, patience, moderation, charity, diligence and the virgin.
Many other dances will catch your eye, including the Baile de los Moros y Cristianos and the loas with the Indian, the devil, the mayor, the farm administrator and others represented in this dramatic theatrical presentation.
Fireworks, invented by the Chinese in the 12th century, may certainly be associated with the devil, but all Catholic religious activities are celebrated with fireworks today in Guatemala. All fiestas include great meals prepared and eaten at home.