The Burning of Judas

The night before Easter Sunday, the Burning of Judas takes place in St Cristobal de las Casas. We had imagined this ceremony to be similar to the one we saw in Alamos during the start of Lent; it was, but tangentially.

Prior to the Burning of Judas event, there were Mayan dancers on the square

Prior to the Burning of Judas event, there were Mayan dancers on the square

The dancers

The dancers

The expectant crowd. We were wondering why they didn't try and get much closer

The expectant Burning of Judas crowd. We were wondering why they didn’t try to get much closer

In St Cristobal instead of burning Judas, they burn numerous effigies, where the effigies represent something “bad”, eg political corruption, oil dependency, environmental destruction of rivers, et al. The team-built effigies are large papier mache sculptures with a twist: the sculptures are filled with firecrackers and fireworks…

One of the effigies - it spoke to oil corruption

One of the effigies – it spoke to oil corruption

There were 10 effigies in all

There were 10 effigies in all

Now I’m sure that each effigy team had a plan for how they were going to light their effigy, and then how it was going to subsequently burn and, most fun of all, light off the firecrackers and fireworks in a orderly fashion ending in a spectacular crescendo.

Lighting the first one went OK, but note the sparks flying into the crowd

Lighting the first one went OK, but note the sparks flying into the crowd

The effigies burn!

The effigies burn!

Well, that didn’t happen.

Lighting the second one started well...

Lighting the second one started well…

The first flaw was likely due to over-enthusiasm: given the size of the crowd, and the one hour delay in getting started, each team was rather pumped up, and poured a liberal dose of gasoline over their effigy so it would start well.

The second, and more fatal flaw, was due to the spacing of the effigies: a distance of 3 feet is no match for the flames coming from a paiper mache sculpture drenched in gasoline (with large pieces being blown into the air as its firecrackers exploded, and fireworks shooting in every direction) , to light its neighbor papier mache sculpture on fire.

But then, the two adjoining ones caught fire as well

But then, the two adjoining ones caught fire as well

The smoldering remains

The smoldering remains

As the effigies were exploding, Karen was crouching down and covering her head with her scarf. As the rockets were bouncing off the building behind us, then landing amongst the crowd, and as the firefighters were pushing the crowd of 1,000s back from the effigies, I was happy that I was at least wearing my glasses as eye protection.

But all’s well that ends well; as far as we could tell, no one was seriously injured. With all the travel warnings that are on the US State Department’s travel website about Mexico, the Burning of Judas was by far and away the most dangerous thing we have experienced in this beautiful country…

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