Your Top Guide for Christmas in Guatemala
Through the Eyes of a Gringo…Benjamin Barnett
Celebrating Christmas in Guatemala has many similarities to celebrating Christmas in other Hispanic countries. This is one of the most beloved holidays in Guatemala. Getting ready to start means preparing yourself with the advent season, which starts the fourth Sunday before Christmas. This tradition has Christian origins and Latinos celebrate it throughout Hispanic America.
You may find that many Hispanic Americans don’t particularly celebrate Advent, but it seems to me that the farther you go south, the more you can find people keeping with this tradition.
Advent Wreath and Calendar
Did you know the word advent means arrival? therefore this is simply a time to celebrate the first arrival of Jesus and prepare for the second arrival of Christ. In Guatemala, as it is in many other Latin American countries, it is time to hang the evergreen wreaths with 5 candles at homes and churches.
The four red or colorful candles go on the sides of the wreath, and the idea is to light one every weekend before Christmas. The middle candle is white and lighting it happens on Christmas Eve. Also many families use the advent calendar, especially with kids.
The Nativity or Belén
Christmas in Guatemala requires the Nativity or Nacimiento. This tradition arrived in the country through a Franciscan priest in the XVII century. Similar to Peruvians, Guatemalans gave their Christmas nativity sets a special touch when they started to represent the nativities with hand made clay figurines by Guatemalan artisans. The nativity has clay houses, shepherds, sheep, roads, greenery and much more.
On the 24th of December baby Jesus rests placidly on his manger until the 31st of December when families take him and dress him with handmade clothes or a hand woven attire. On top of his head goes a bright small crown.
Using the traditional ways of the Mayan Indians, many artisans make the clay figures and elements for the nativity. These Guatemalan clay figurines are a must, and you can see families buying the pieces at markets or mercados cantonales.
Burning the Devil a Unique Guatemalan Tradition
Get ready because on December 7th, Guatemalans prepare a fire with leaves, sticks and useless articles to burn the devil. Believe it or not, children help find the materials to create the fire and are pretty much part of the whole process.
At the time the devil burns, many Guatemalas broom their homes from the inside to the outside. The purpose is to make sure the devil doesn’t come in, and instead, finds his way to burn in hell. After booming, families spay holy water on the broom.
Burning goes along with what we call polvora or firecrackers, that are pretty much available everywhere during Christmas and the new year. If you have a chance, enjoy perusing the markets and seeing the paper mache devils stuffed with firecrackers ready to be burnt! Yes, the devil must pay his dues at 6 o’clock, and now it is time as the men prepare the devil’s figure by pouring plenty of gasoline on it.
This tradition started in colonial times when people were preparing for the celebration of the Immaculate Conception. Burning the Devil is one of the most recognized Guatemalan traditions, and tt shows the victory of the Virgin Mary over the devil. It also represents a rebirth, letting the bad go away to allow goodness to come in.
In Ciudad Vieja, Antigua and others, Guatemalans burn a huge devil in the town’s square. The people in charge of torching him read the charges and prepare to start burning it, as all people around listen carefully and excitedly.
Seeing this happen at one of the well preserved towns transports you back in time, making you feel you are in colonial times while experiencing the heat of the fire. When the burning starts Children and adults laugh, enjoy and scream around this cultural tradition which makes the festivities very much alive!
Experiencing a Real Christmas in Guatemala!
All I shared here with you is just a little piece of what this tradition is all about.
This small article can’t give you all the info you need to really understand and enjoy a traditional Christmas in Guatemala or to cook the traditional dishes like tamales. That is why I truly recommend Benjamin Barnett’s guide to Christmas in Guatemala.
His book is a chock full of info about the Feast of the Virgin of Immaculate Conception, Dia de Santo Tomas, a complete Christmas guide for Navidad in Guatemala, La Procesion del Nino, the traditions for the New Year and more.
Want to cook the best tamales that accompany Christmas in Guatemala? Then you can’t miss out Benjamin’s Guatemalan tamales recipe book that includes over 40 recipes. These are treasures passed down in families every year.
Benjamin Barnett created a complete guide to Christmas in Guatemala from a real insider’s point of view, a true American who settled in Guatemala for a while.
Benjamin had been traveling to Latin America for over 10 years and to Guatemala for 5 years before he settled there for 2 1/2 years. He lived the Guatemalan culture and for sure, he can take you on a true adventure of Navidad in Guatemala!