“Welcoming the Christmas Season” or, “Pyromania”

On December 7, 2009 at 6 pm Guatemalans and gringos alike began the official Christmas season with a daring display of pyrotechnics in the traditional “quema del diablo” or “burning of the devil.” Looming large and leering demonically near the entrance of Antigua proper, a statue of a devil was perched on a base of household trash and set on fire at the onset of darkness. In towns all across Guatemala, families brought out small piles of household trash and burned it in front of their homes, getting rid of bad spirits in preparation for the happy holiday season.

IMG_0427Though initially uninspired to attend the event because of laziness, I made myself follow the guideline I set back in October, which is never to opt out of an experience just because I don´t feel like picking myself up and going (you wouldn´t believe how many times I have discovered something beautiful, cool, or moving because this simple rule.)

And, as you might have guessed, this turned out to be a very cool experience indeed. Despite the fact that the crowd numbered possibly more than 1,500 people, Luis, Michael and I had an amazing view-maybe even the best view- owing to our having clambered on top of a fire truck which was ready to respond should any of the fireworks land precariously close to one of the two gas stations within 500 yards of the burning devil (as Michael is fond of saying, and is almost always true, “That would definitely be illegal in the U.S.”)

As I stood on the truck taking in the scene, its flashing red lights lighting up one side of my face and ash drifting through the air like snow flakes, I suddenly realized that my typical role in photographing other people doing strange or cool things had been reversed- so we´ll see if a picture of Michael, Luis & I shows up in any of the tourist magazines here. Ha!

Just as suddenly as that small realization came the sound of fresh fireworks cracking, and as I whipped my head towards the source of the noise I saw the most “illegal in the U.S.” thing yet—a man with a caging of lit fireworks hoisted on his back was charging around the square, purposefully approaching groups of onlookers to provoke screams and speedy flight as the fireworks shot straight at them. Luis informs me that this brave man is called “el torrito” or “the little bull.” Apparently he just heightens the excitement of the celebration… but once again I was thankful for my perch on top of something so singularly fire retardant.