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 devils, backpacks, song

11 diciembre
One of the most unusual of Guatemalan traditions is Quema del Diablo, or the burning of the devil, on December 7th. My first year here I marveled in the variety of reactions of people to this holiday - some were embarrassed to admit there is such a superstitious rite still being practiced, others laughed about enjoying the evening of fires burning in the streets. This year I participated in the burning. My friend Kami bought a bright red devil piñata from a makeshift roadside stand and we went out to the street along with several neighbors carrying their own devils. We wrote on the devil names of things we would like to destroy - both personal and global (poverty, hunger, AIDS, Alzheimers', etc.). Many brought household trash to fuel the flames. At 6pm a neighbor lit the trash surrounding our twin devils standing side by side, to the delight of children watching the flames climb. Inside was a hidden surprise, firecrackers! The burning of the devil is often called the official start to the Christmas season, there will be fireworks every day throughout the holidays.

A representative group of Colegio Maya students, with teachers accompanying, visited Camino Seguro - our community service project at Safe Passage, the school for the children at the city dump. This year we raised funds to buy each of over 500 children backpacks for the coming school year in January. Camino Seguro students unloaded our bus while we toured the new school constructed from donated funds. In a touching ceremony, each of our students gave a backpack to an individual student. They sang and gave us holiday cards. Several of our younger boys wanted to stay and read to the kids, but classes awaited, and we left to get back to the busy end to our own school year.

The rest of the week was Messiah week - two dress rehearsals culminating in concerts at the National Theatre and at an elegant Antigua setting, both sold out. We dressed in long black gowns with red Guatemalan scarves draped around our necks, the men in black suits with red mariposas, or butterflies, the word for bow ties. For the encore, each of the four soloists chose his or her own holiday song, resulting in music in three different languages. At the National Theatre, we descended into the aisles for the final song, singing in harmony with the audience. In Casa Santa Domingo in Antigua, our stage was surrounded by the crumbling walls and altar of an ancient church, and candles sparkled along the walkways. In the front row, with the 70-odd blending voices of the choir behind me, the strains of the orchestra and operatic voices of the soloists in front, just a few faces of the audience visible beyond the bright lights of the stage, I realized these are moments that will stay with me - the joyous sounds of the most celebrated choral music all around me.

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