Guatemala is a country filled with traditions and customs. This becomes more evident with the arrival of the holiday celebrations, which according to the Guatemalan historian Celso Lara, are some of the most beautiful in Latin America. Traditions in Guatemala are a fusion of elements and beliefs of Arab, Spanish and Mayan origin.
The December celebrations start off with the traditional Quema del Diablo (The Burning of the Devil) on December 7th, which is done with the purpose of sanctifying and purifying the way before the celebration of the day of the Virgen de Concepcion on the 8th.
The Posadas in Guatemala
The traditional Christmas Posadas are celebrated in Guatemala from December 16th to the 24th. In the old parts of the city and in the towns small processions accompanied by groups of people carrying colored paper lanterns walk the streets as soon as the night falls. Children and teenagers carry images of Joseph and Mary on a wooden float . Singing and prayers are accompanied by the Tucutícuto of the ayotl (a pre-Columbian percussion instrument made of a turtle’s shell which is taped on it’s convex side with a piece of wood) along with other autochthonous instruments including whistles and chinchines (aboriginal maracas made from the fruit of the morro tree), filling the night air with music and song.
The Posadas are small processions that symbolize the journey of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Jerusalem and their search for a place to spend the night. This tradition originates in Spain where they are called Jornadillas and this tradition is typical of many Latin American countries.
The Posadas are done during the nine days prior to Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) symbolizing the nine months of Virgin Mary’s pregnancy. The first Posada leaves the parish temple and makes it’s way to a home that has been chosen in advance. Every night the group visits three houses, in each one part of the group enters and the other part stays outside with the images of Joseph and Mary and through singing a ritualistic dialogue, which has previously been rehearsed. In the first two houses visited the entrance is denied so that the group can continue on to the next house. Finally in the third house the host opens the doors and welcomes them in. The float is placed in a place of honor or an altar, generally close to the Nativity scene decorated with colored sawdust, moss, pacaya leaves and stringed manzanilla (knows as tejocotl in Mexico) garlands.
Every day is usually dedicated to a different element surrounding the Nativity.
On the 16th it is dedicated to the Mount of the Drum
On the 17th to the City of Nain.
On the 18th to the Fields of Samira
On the 19th to the Well of Sequen
On the 20th to the Corral of the Sheep
On the 21st to the Glasses of Snow
On the 23rd to the Entrance of Bethlehem
On the 24th to the Portal of Bethlehem
Every night the host receives the travelers with tamales, chuchitos, fruit punch, agua de horchata, barquillos and other traditional Guatemalan foods. The anda with the images of Joseph and Mary remains in the house until the next night when the pilgrimage begins again. On December 24th the travelers remain on the last of the nine houses and there the baby Jesus is added to the Nativity scene.