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Beat The Devil To Prepare For St. Nick

Matthias Zepper
Wikimedia Commons
Klausjagen, 2011. Men wearing Iffelen or Infuln, which are enormous, incredibly ornate paper / wood hats which resemble a cross between a bishop's mitre and a stained glass window.

Each week on World Music, we not only hear great sounds from around the world, but I share a little news about the many interesting festivals that are taking place this week as well. This week, we'll learn about how folks prepare for the holidays by ridding their towns of evil.

The devil has been lurking around Guatemala, and quite a few other locations as well, since the days of the Conquistadores. These intrepid explorers brought many things to the New World, including disease, slaves and religion to name a few. December 8th is the Feast of The Immaculate Conception, and as part of the preparation for the day, wealthy families decorate the front of their houses with lanterns. Poorer families strove to emulate the rich by burning their garbage. At some point in time, it was decided that an effigy of the devil should be added to the flames, to burn all the bad from the year and face the feast day and Christmas with a clean slate. 
Today 'La Quema Del Diablo' is an eagerly awaited event, and preparations start well in advance. The effigy is huge, complete with horns and a tail, even perched on a bicycle and packed with fireworks. But there's no quick getaway for this devil! He's doused with gasoline and readied for the big event. Before the fire is lit, his will is read aloud to the waiting crowd, ending with quite a sentimental turn of phrase wishing them 'the Guatemala that everyone wants.' By now the time is coming up to six in the evening, and the sky is dark. A lit torch is applied to the wood, flames soar heavanward, fireworks explode in all directions, and people dodge the flying red-hot debris. Eventually nothing is left but the smoldering embers and these are dealt with by the fire brigade, who not only douse the remnants of the devil but the crowds as well. Now the partying begins, and eventually all go home secure in the knowledge that good has triumphed over evil.



The centuries old Swiss parade called Klausjagen, or the Claus Chase, was initially a pagan celebration. Back then, the idea was for young men to carry sticks and chase away evil spirits. This resulted in wild and erratic behavior that was completely condemned by the Christian church. Even a ban imposed in 1730 failed to stop the shenanigans, so with the old “if you can’t beat them, join them,” idea, an organization took formal control of the celebration in 1928.

On December 6, the tightly controlled procession will follow a prescribed procedure, drawing at least twenty thousand spectators. It starts with young men cracking long leather whips, then come men wearing enormous hats that resemble stained glass windows, lit from the inside by candles. At this point, St. Nicolas, looking remarkably like Santa Claus, puts in an appearance. With him is a character referred to as Schmutzli, blackened face, red eyes and dressed in black, he brings a particularly sinister aspect to the celebration. Following behind is a brass band playing seasonal tunes, then bringing up the rear, cow bells and alpine horns. By the night’s end, street lights are turned on and everyone closes the evening with delicious fondue.



Learn more about these and other celebrations happening around the world this week on World Music with Deirdre Saravia, Saturday nights at 8:00 on KSTX 89.1 FM.


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Deirdre as born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and her first paid work was at the age of 10 with the BBC as an actress on "Children's Hour." She continued to perform regularly on radio and stage for the next eight years, at which point she was informed by her parents that theater was not an option and she needed "real" work.