Dec 23, 2009

“Noche Buena” the most exuberant celebration in all Latin America.

The furthest north of the five Central American countries, Guatemala is a modern country with very old traditions. Many of them originated in Spain and were brought to the city by the Hispanic conquerors in l525. However, in the middle of the XVII Century, amalgamated with the Mayan’s traditions and those of other cultures, the Guatemalan traditions became “unique.”

Being a Catholic country, a characteristic of most of the traditions in Guatemala is that they are religious in nature. The two most important traditions are: “Semana Santa” (Holy Week) and Christmas, called “Noche Buena,” (Good Night) by the Guatemalan people.
Because the latter celebrates Jesus’ birth, during December most Guatemalans externalize their joy for life, making “Noche Buena” the most exuberant celebrations in all Latin America.

Those visiting Guatemala in December discover that the “Noche Buena” season has sounds: cohetes (firecrackers) are heard every night and marimbas play in the streets. It also has its own aroma: produced by ropes made out of pine, and manzanilla (chamomile) rosaries hang around the frames of the doors. The sights include: elaborate Christmas trees, and life-size nacimientos (nativities) in the shopping malls. In the markets, one can see rolls of “Pico de Gallo” (a red bush used for decoration) and “Flores de Pascua” (poinsettias). For sale on the stands are small clay figures depicting the Holy Family, the three kings, and the “pastores” (shepherds). There are also sheep, made out of cotton, all types of cardboard houses, and pine trees. They are used to create the “nacimientos,” (A miniature representation of the manger in Bethlehem) another Guatemalan tradition. To create them, sawdust painted in different colors become the fields and little stones form the winding roads.

Mountains are built using corrugated paper and broken mirrors create lakes and rivers. In the sky, lights sparkle simulating the stars and angels, sustained in golden strings, fly over the manger. This tradition from Spain is believed to have been brought to Guatemala by the yet to be canonized Saint, Hermano Pedro de San Jose de Bethancourt in the XVI Century.

The Christmas season in Guatemala begins on December 7th. With “La Quema del Diablo.” (The burning of the devil). On this day, at exactly 6 p.m. most Guatemalans build a “fogata,” (bonfire) outside their houses and toss the “devil,” (constructed like a piñata and filled with firecrackers) into it. The “devil” stands for all the sins people accumulated during the year.

People believe that “burning his efigy” cleanses them and makes them ready to receive in their hearts the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception whose feast is celebrated the next day (Dec 8). According to Guatemalan historian Miguel Álvarez Arévalo, the origin of “the bonfires” may be traced to colonial times when, the well-to-do, placed elaborate lanterns in the front of their homes to celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The poor could not afford lanterns, so they lit bonfires made from paper and trash. How the “devil” came into the tradition is unknown, but according to historian Celso A. Lara Figueroa, the preaching priests described how the Virgin Mary squashed the head of the devil established the link.

The Feast of “La Inmaculada.” (Dec 8) is considered holy in Guatemala. People attend mass and it is celebrated with firecrackers and processions in the churches’ courts. This ritual is repeated on December 12 to honor La Virgen de Guadalupe “Patron of the Americas.” “Las Posadas” (representing St. Joseph and the Virgin Mary looking for lodging) begins around December 14.

Guatemalans celebrate “Noche Buena” on December 24. On this night, the families get together, exchange gifts, drink ponche (punch) and eat tamales.
Throughout the night one can hear the bells ringing and the firecrackers.

Santa Claus can now be seen in many shopping malls but he is not yet considered “a tradition,” For the Guatemalans the reason Noche Buena is joyous is because it is the day Jesus was born.

·Thanks to Iride Aparicio
·Thanks to La Oferta
·Thanks to Flickr Photosharing


Josh Indiana said...

Gorgeous, Lenny. Long live Guatemala!

Long live the King.

Padre Mickey said...

Feliz Navidad, Leonardo, hermano mío, y a Juan Carlos, también.

Lottsa firecrackers here in Panamá, too. It was so loud at midnight on Noche Buena that the Lovely Mona and I got out of bed and joined the rest of the neighborhood out on the street watching the fireworks.

Folks eat tamales here in Panamá but I prefer Mexican tamales to Panamanian ones; must be the Californiano in me.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

What wonderful pictures! And I could definitely get into a Christmas celebration with fireworks!

Lynn said...

I'll second the wonderful photo comment - you select colors here with your artist's eye, no question.

Christmas blessings, dear Leonardo.