AFP

ANTIGUA GUATEMALA

Guatemalan Catholics gathered across the country Monday as part of a centuries-old tradition to “burn the devil,” lighting bonfires in the street to mark the beginning of the holiday season. The celebration sees Guatemalans set effigies of Satan in flames on the eve of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the unofficial start of the Christmas holiday season. In Guatemala’s colonial-era city of Antigua, thousands gathered in the neighborhood of La Concepcion to watch flames consume a paper and metal devil towering some two meters (6.5 feet) tall. Several local artisans in Guatemala City seized the moment to make effigies of former President Otto Perez and former Vice President Roxana Baldetti, who have been imprisoned for corruption. “These people are pure devils,” one artisan said in the newspaper Prensa Libre. Perez is accused of masterminding a corrupt network of politicians and customs officials who took bribes from businesses in exchange for illegal discounts on import duties. Prosecutors and United Nations investigators say the network collected $3.8 million in bribes between May 2014 and April 2015 - including $800,000 each to Perez and Baldetti.

The tradition of “burning of the devil” dates to Spanish colonialism and signifies purification before the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, according to historians. Fires were lit in towns across the country beginning at 6:00 pm (0001 GMT Tuesday). Civil protection authorities recommended that people avoid burning tires, plastics and other materials that could have harmful effects on the environment or health.