Christmas is celebrated in different ways around the world, with a variety of symbols deeply embedded in one’s own cultural tradition. We look at how people from Guatemala celebrate the Christmas.
Christmas in the Central American country of Guatemala begins on 8 December, the day when the feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated. For the entire month of December, many traditional rituals and celebrations are performed among the population of the country. Due to the significant presence and richness of the Mayan culture, an interesting religious syncretism between Mayan and Christian beliefs is present in this country.
December 8 is marked by a celebration called ‘The Burning of Evil’. On this occasion, people take items from their homes that are not essential or which they do not want anymore around the house, gather them outside the house and burn them with firecrackers.
For Guatemalans, this tradition symbolizes their preparation of the coming of the Baby Jesus at Christmas. It is a way of purifying themselves to be able to see with new eyes what really matters in life.
Many decorations are prepared for the Christmas season. Houses are repaired or painted inside and out, to show that not only the soul is ‘put in order’, but the external abode as well. Small apples are used as decorations in the form of garlands. Poinsettias, the perennial flower, are used to decorate balconies and homes. Pine needles are spread out on the floor as their aroma fills the air.
The Christmas tree that adorns the house is the pine tree or pinabete. By law in Guatemala nobody can cut down trees. Because of this, the indigenous people of the country make trees that resemble the originals from simple tree branches. The trees are sold on the streets and in squares, not forgetting that the indigenous people of Guatemala also make beautifully coloured Christmas handicrafts.
Fireworks at midnight
On 16 December the Pasadas start. These are groups of people called pilgrims who walk through the streets carrying images of Mary and Joseph. While walking, they ask homeowners to give them a place to spend the night. After being denied a few times, they finally stop at one house that opens its door and graciously lets them in. This starts a festivity where cakes, fruits, and delicious Guatemalan punch are served.
Christmas Eve is a special day in Guatemala. The family gathers together while fireworks are set off on the streets at midnight, marking the moment when Baby Jesus was born in Bethlehem. At this time, prayers are said in thanksgiving to God for such a great gift to humanity and then the dinner is shared among those present.
After dinner, the gifts are opened and family members dance and sing all night. The purpose of so much togetherness is also meant to build strong bonds of love among the various families, so as to face the future with confidence, particularly in times of suffering and difficulties.
The Christmas dinner is very traditional, but does vary within the country. The typical foods of Christmas are tamales and ponche. The dough of the tamales is made from corn with a filling of meat and delicious tomato salsa. Ponche is made by boiling dry fruits, raisins, dates and brown sugar together, making sure to add a little bit of liquor to give it a special taste. At Christmas midday, fireworks start once again. (F.P.)